Author Archives: Our Little Organic Life

Stuff You Should Never Put Down the Drain

Those living in rural areas with their own septic tanks have probably always been pretty conscientious about what they flush down the loo. If only because when something goes wrong, it’s pretty expensive to fix and you’re the sucka who’s gotta pay for it. But those of us in cities and towns whose waste just goes into the sewer system are generally pretty relaxed about what goes down the drain. Wet wipes, nappies, tampons, condoms, cooking fats and oils and coffee grounds.

I’ve always been fairly conscientious about using household cleaning products that won’t harm the water table after being poured down the drain, but lately I have become incredibly aware of other more…tangible problems in our sewers and waterways, as last September (2017) barely a couple of miles from my home there was a huge disgusting fatberg found in the sewers of Whitechapel which weighed over 130 tonnes and was over 250 metres long.

“A fatberg smells like rotting meat mixed with the odour of a smelly toilet.” – Thames Water Sewer Network Manager, Alex Saunders

So it got me thinking about not only what we shouldn’t be putting down the drain, but what can we do to make sure that these items aren’t only not clogging up the sewers, but not impacting landfill either, nor contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. UKDN have produced a list of the Drainage Dirty Dozen – items you shouldn’t be putting down your drain – and there’s a fantastic poster you can download, print and pop into your loo or kitchen. Its particularly handy if you run a cafe, community centre or other business where you can’t personally monitor what is going down your drains. As you’ll see from the list, there are quite a lot of things you really shouldn’t be putting down the drain, but here are my top 5 swaps you can make to reduce the impact you’re having on our environment and on your local sewer system.

1. Wet Wipes

The Problem: Okay, these are the nasties which, combined with grease and fats in the sewers, are mainly responsible for the creation of fatbergs and similar deposits. As a parent, think about how many wet wipes you use with your child. Even the “flushable” ones are bad. I used disposable Water Wipes with my daughter when we were out and about, as they were chemical-free and safe for her skin. But they weren’t any better in terms of environmental impact when it came to their disposal. I’m pretty sure that I always wrapped them up inside the dirty nappy before disposing of them in the bin, but I’ll bet there were at least a couple of times when I wasn’t thinking and tossed them down the loo.

The Solution: When my daughter was a baby, we used only DIY wet wipes at home and if I knew then what I knew now about wipes, I’d have bought a small wet bag and used them on the go as well as they’re so easy. You can make them to fit any budget – if you’re on a tight budget you can make them by ripping up old flannels and following my recipe in the video below. If you have a bigger budget, these Norwex baby body cloths are great and as they’re embedded with antibacterial silver, they limit bacterial growth so you only need to run them under the tap before and after use (then throw them in a 60 degree wash when you get home).

2. Nappies

The Problem: I have to admit it boggles my mind how on earth nappies are getting down the drain. Surely nappies are too big to flush? Nevertheless, they seem to be getting down there, so obviously someone is flushing them. The obvious answer here is…don’t flush your nappies down the loo. But the overall environmental impact of nappies is pretty harsh. Its estimated that in the UK 8 million nappies are being thrown away per day. Each one of those 8 million nappies per day takes around 500 years to degrade in landfill. I’ll let you do the math and think about the environmental consequences of that.

The Solution: One way you can minimise the risk of nappies ending up in landfill or sewers is by swapping to cloth nappy use – full or part time. By using cloth nappies you’ll also make a savings of around £500 per child. Most nurseries I’ve spoken to are really happy to use cloth nappies if you kit them out properly, so even if you’re not a stay at home parent, you can still use cloth nappies easily and benefit from their environmental and cost savings. We used AppleCheeks nappies as we found they worked best and had the best range of sizes, but there are lots of brands out there to fit all budgets and you can try out the different brands before committing to purchasing by visiting a nappy library. There are even brands out there producing hybrid cloth nappies which, while still creating some disposable waste, make travelling with cloth nappies totally possible. You can also do what we did, which is use cloth at home and in the local area, but eco-disposable brands (like Bambo and Naty) when travelling.

apple cheeks cloth nappies

3. Tampons

The Problem: We’ve all done it. (Well, those of us who use tampons, sorry boys!) We’ve all been in a public loo without a sanitary waste bin and just flushed our tampon. Its so easy to do…and they’re soooooo small. What harm can they do? Tampons are designed not to break down when they get wet (that’s how they, urm, do their job so well) and let alone worrying about the sewer, they’re probably going to clog your drain – very quickly. So even in North American and the UK, with our more robust plumbing, its still a big no no.

The Solution: Tampons are a cocktail of glyphosate, dioxin and chlorine, which is not

which of the following do you flush or pour down your bathroom drains?
really anything you want up your Queen Victoria. There are natural and organic brands of tampons available, but OMG when I made the swap to a menstrual cup, it was awesome! No irritation from constantly changing tampons all day, no worries about leaks and I could just go about my day without actually constantly remembering I was having my period. They’re made from medical grade silicone and so they’re easy to clean and sterilise between uses month to month. There are two sizes – size 1 for those of you who haven’t popped out babies and size 2 for ‘post childbirth’ women or women over 30. If you’re a really heavy bleeder, you can always pop on a pair of period pants which will absorb up to 1.5 tampons worth of blood (and yes, they also work). What I like about menstrual cups and period pants is that they are both better, easier and more comfortable and easier than the conventional solution. And of course cheaper. A good menstrual cup costs about $35/£19 and will last you for 10 years. (The 3rd solution is “mama cloth” which is homemade cloth sanitary pads you can get on Amazon and Etsy. Don’t bother unless you like feeling awkward, uncomfortable, a bit smelly and constantly worrying about leaks. Then go for it.)

4. Medications

The Problem: When we don’t finish medications (prescription or otherwise) we really don’t want them sitting around – especially if we have kids or vulnerable people in the house who could accidentally ingest them. If you flush your unused or expired medication or crush it up and pour it down the drain, those chemicals will leach back into your drinking water and the environment. Rather shockingly, the US FDA actually suggests that you SHOULD flush dangerous medications down the toilet (granted, its better than a child accidentally ingesting it) but really this is shockingly poor advice, as those drugs are going to affect the water table and even relatively safe drugs like the oral contraceptive pill will add hormones to the water which aren’t filtered out when water is prepared for consumption by treatment plants.

The Solution: The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee sensibly advises

UKDN_HYEFAOTF_Infographic_Final
that you should always dispose of unwanted medication at your local pharmacy or police department as they will have access to medical waste disposal units. You should be aware that pharmacies are required by law to take back unwanted medicines from patients and it is their responsibility to arrange for safe disposal. For minor health conditions you may wish to look at more natural alternatives rather than pharmaceutical solutions for every small ache and pain. A great solution to ensure you’re putting your money where it needs to go when looking at natural health solutions is by reading PubMed research papers where there you can find plenty of high quality research providing evidence (or lack thereof) on natural remedies. My one caveat to this is that gold standard research is expensive and in many cases, the people with the money to spend on research (pharmaceutical and chemical companies which sponsor and fund many academic research projects), don’t necessarily wish to investigate low cost or free natural alternatives to their own products. Just because a natural alternative doesn’t have evidence supporting it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work (although it may not) – it means that the study may have been flawed (the wrong subspecies of botanical used, etc.) or that there hasn’t been any study conducted at all. Don’t worry though, there are usually plenty of natural options with good supporting gold standard evidence in their favour and this is where I would recommend someone puts their focus.

5. Grease, Oil & Cooking Fat

The Problem: Okay, so back to fatbergs. Its also not the big mega fatbergs you need to

UKDN_DYPTFDTS_Infographic_Final
worry about – you also need to worry about smaller fatbergs forming in the sewer pipes underneath your property…which YOU are liable for (see here for details about which pipes are and aren’t your responsibility). Okay, so we don’t want local domestic fatbergs and we don’t want big urban fatbergs. But what are they? Can’t we just melt them with the hairdryer or something? Well, no, because they’re not just fat and baby wipes stuck together. Here comes the science! Fatbergs are more of a hard soap-like compound. They’re formed when the fats you pour down the drain go into the sewers and break down into their component parts of fatty acids and glycerol and bind to calcium (created from the corrosion of concrete amongst other things – or if you live in London where ISN’T calcium present?) which is found in the sewers. They then form stalactites and have to be ‘mined’ away like the Whitechapel ones have been.

The Solution: I have two solutions for you. The first is to not cook with so much fat. Do you really need to deep fry everything? Honestly despite what the popular media is saying about fat being the new broccoli or whatever, fat in its refined form (oils and other forms where it has been extracted from its whole food state) is not that good for you and is a pro-inflammatory food. I’ll admit that yes a bit of olive oil makes food taste lovely, but if you’re using more than a couple of teaspoons which are absorbed into the food you’re cooking then maybe you need to give pause for thought. But if you insist on making grandma’s deep fried apple fritter recipe and have a load of leftover oil or you’ve cooked a Sunday roast and there’s leftover ooky fat at the base of your roasting tray, you’re going to have to dispose of it in your household garbage and not by pouring it down the sink…or (like I see some London housewives doing) by taking it outside into the street and pouring it straight down into the storm drains!

This post is a collaboration with UKDN, the UK’s market leader in the wastewater industry.

How to Make Golden Milk

I’ll admit that golden milk isn’t my drink of choice when it comes to flavour as I’m not the biggest fan of turmeric (outside of a curry). But this antioxidant powerhouse of a drink provides a range of fantastic health benefits for its anti-inflammatory properties. I suggest that if you’re using powdered turmeric, that you make sure you are using a fresh, organic brand which will have higher levels of the active phytonutrient curcumin.

It might seem a bit gross adding a bit of pepper like I have here, but the addition of the piperine (the active phytochemical in the black pepper) by freshly grinding some pepper into your drink, will boost the bioavailability of the curcumin by up to 2000%.

I’ve also added cinnamon and a fine dusting of nutmeg for added flavour (I think these make the golden milk more tasty) and provide added anti-inflammatory benefits, but if you don’t like cinnamon or nutmeg, you can leave these out.

Here’s how I make mine:

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Place your turmeric juice or powdered turmeric into a saucepan with the plant milk and gently simmer for around 10 minutes.
  2. Before serving, sprinkle on some freshly ground pepper and stir in the sweetener. Then strain it into a glass or mug and drink whilst warm. Grate nutmeg on top.

If you want to find out about the effectiveness of curcumin, I encourage you to read the resources referenced below. Enjoy!

Resources

  1. Prasad, S., Tyagi, A. and Aggarwal, B. (2014). Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice. Cancer Research and Treatment, 46(1), pp.2-18. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3918523/ [Accessed 21 May 2018].
  2. Whfoods.com. (2018). Turmeric. [online] Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78 [Accessed 21 May 2018].

5 Healthy Plant Based Breakfasts

Its been over a year and a half since I moved to a plant based diet and I can’t tell you how much I’ve looked forward to every meal since that day. With the abundance of vegan processed foods on the market these days, its certainly easier than ever to eat a fairly junky plant based diet, so just like everyone else, even vegans need to be conscientious about healthy eating. I certainly adhere to an 80/20 rule. I eat whole, plant based foods 80% of the time, leaving 20% of the time for the occasional bit of whatever-the-heck-I-fancy food (although always vegan)! Here are a few of my favourite healthy plant-based breakfasts.

All the recipes below contain fairtrade organic ingredients and this article has been sponsored by Atlist, a fantastic new platform to help you with all the ethical shopping inspiration you could ever want.  Find out more about Atlist or sign up here.

Strawberry Smoothie

1. Smoothies

Smoothies are a great way to cram in lots of antioxidants and vitamins into your diet. I recommend buying organic fruits where possible, as while the vitamin content of conventional produce is similar to non-organic, antioxidants are found in much higher concentrations in organic produce. Although the addition of a frozen banana will give an excellent milkshake-like texture to your smoothie, frozen avocado will do the same whilst adding healthy fats and it won’t affect your blood sugar as much. Add as many frozen berries as you care to, along with a splash of plant-based milk and a spoonful of your favourite nut butter, for some protein. Smoothies are also a great place to hide a scoop of protein powder too. My favourite recipe is:

  • 200 ml cashew milk
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (or a teaspoon of your favourite nut butter)
  • half a frozen banana (or half a frozen avocado)
  • large handful of frozen strawberries
  • heaped teaspoon of inositol powder (to help lower blood sugar)

Blend all that up in a high speed blender for 1 minute until you have a thick, creamy strawberry milkshake-like appearance and enjoy!

Scrambled tofu & sourdough

cof

2. Toast & Scrambled Tofu

Learning how to make scrambled tofu made the transition to a plant-based diet much easier for me, as I used to enjoy scrambled eggs from time to time as a weekend breakfast. You’ll need to crumble half a block of extra firm tofu (I recommend fermented tofu if you can find it) into a bowl and add 1/3 tsp of turmeric powder, 1 tsp olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Stir it all up and let it sit for a few minutes while the turmeric really stains the tofu. Then toss it into the frying pan and heat it up and serve it with your toast of choice – I like sourdough. You can also add some Indian black salt for a more authentic eggy flavour. The turmeric adds a great source of antioxidants to this dish, but if you add some black pepper to your eggs just before serving, you’ll increase that even further because the pipeline in the pepper boosts the bioavailability of the curcumin in the turmeric by up to 2000%.

overnight-sweet-potato-oats

3. Overnight Oats

Overnight oats will rock your world if you’re always busy and never have time to make breakfast in the morning. Everyone’s worried about carbs these days, but there’s no reason to fear oats as they contain beta-glucans which help prevent our blood sugar from spiking when we eat them. And of course oats are a great source of fibre, with regular consumption being associated with smaller waistlines and a reduced risk of obesity.

Get yourself a good mason jar – something with a lid that won’t fall off in your handbag. Buy a big bag of organic Scottish style porridge oats (they work better than the jumbo oats) and fill your freezer with your favourite frozen berry. There! Now you have no excuse not to eat breakfast ever again.

The easiest overnight oat recipe I can suggest is to take your mason jar and fill the bottom 1/3 with a layer of frozen berries, then add 1/3 oats (you can add some dried fruit and nuts here if you like) and then top the final 1/3 of the jar with more frozen berries. Now grab your favourite plant milk (I make my own because its so cheap and easy to do so – get the recipe here) and fill the mason jar just until you cover the top of the oat layer. Put the top on the jar, stick it in the fridge and forget about it until tomorrow morning when you go to work. Of course, the beauty of this recipe is that you can add whatever you like – dried fruits, spices, coconut yogurt and even a dab of almond butter. There are no rules! Pinterest is filled with delicious overnight oat recipes to inspire you and I can highly recommend apple pie overnight oats!

blueberry chia pudding

4. Coconut yogurt with berries, nuts & seeds

Some people really just aren’t breakfast people, and if that sounds like you, this may be your ideal breakfast. Even if you’re not too organised about preparing food ahead of time, you can grab a pot of coconut yogurt on the go, along with a box of blueberries and a bag of your favourite raw, unsalted nuts, and just graze away all morning long. If, like me, you try to prepare your own food and don’t want to buy too much packaged stuff, just load up a mason jar with fresh berries (maybe a few slices of banana) and drizzle with a couple tablespoons of coconut yogurt and sprinkle with a few chopped up lightly toasted almonds or raw walnuts. Throw in some chia seeds for some extra omega 3’s and fibre too. If you don’t like buying out of season fruit, you could buy bags of frozen berries (like I do) and prepare it all in a mason jar the night before. Berries are a really low glycemic index food and are packed with antioxidants, so this breakfast is great for anyone trying to keep their blood sugar balanced (just make sure you stick to berries and avoid adding other high glycemic index (GI) fruits like banana, mango or pineapple).

smashed avocado on toast

5. Smashed Avocado on Toast

Seriously, who doesn’t love avocado toast? (Well, my husband actually.) But I’m fairly certain that everyone else in the world has the potential to love smashed avocados on toast. Avocados are full of healthy fats like omega 3’s and oleic acid, vitamin K and they are a low glycemic index food as well as a good source of fibre. If, like me, you live in an area where the quality of the avocados isn’t very dependable, you can now buy bags of frozen halved avocados, which is helpful for portion control too. (I recommend Mexican hass avocados if you can get ahold of them. ) You can bring out the required number of avocado halves, thaw them overnight, give them a good smash (using a bowl & fork – nothing fancy) with a pinch of sea salt and maybe some dried chilli flakes if that’s your thing (it’s my thing) followed by a squeeze of lime juice and roughly pile it onto a slice of toast – it’s particularly good on Poilane bread if you can get your hands on a loaf of that, but any sourdough will do. A sprinkle of dukkah is a delicious addition too.

Sources: World’s Healthiest Foods, Science News, NutritionFacts

Photo Credit: Avocado on Toast image by Maggie Lynch, Overnight Oats image by Jourdan Bourke, Photo by Rezel Apacionado on Unsplash

10 Ways to Make Your Holiday Eco-Friendly

Travel is a big part of life in our family and we try to incorporate many of the environmental sustainability principles we use at home when we go on holiday. Here are my top 10 tips for planning an eco friendly holiday.

1) Use a dedicated eco travel agency or holiday provider

There are a number of holiday travel providers which specialise in eco friendly holidays and destinations. Its great that businesses like this exist to help get you to remote or difficult to get to eco-luxury destinations, but to be honest, if you have the time to do a little planning, there’s no absolutely reason that you need to use one of these services, especially if you are travelling on a budget or if you want to travel to a conventional destination or resort. Remember when you get to your destination there will also be small, independent travel/tour providers who can help get you to out of the way locations and you won’t be paying a middleman if you book with them directly. The local tourist bureau can recommend reputable companies – I used to run just such a business myself and the local tourist bureau sent us and the other local eco-tour providers lots of business.

2) Travel Independently if Possible

Its much easier to do eco travel when travelling independently, but I appreciate that resort-based travel can be much easier for some people, especially solo and more mature travellers, people in high stress jobs and those with physical disabilities (though lots of people with physical disabilities are able to enjoy independent travel with a little forward planning). You can apply lots of your sustainability principles from home when you’re staying at a resort, but its never going to be as ‘green’ as travelling independently. For instance, at a resort, there will always be upsetting amounts of food waste and you don’t know whether the items you place in the waste bin are actually being recycled or just sent to landfill (or eventually ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is now twice the size of Texas). If you’re travelling with kids its much easier to do independent travel (as opposed to resort travel) and you can read my article on Travelling with Kids to find out more. Whether you choose to travel independently or with a package holiday, you can still use some of the tools below to travel more sustainably.

3) Plan Well with the Right Tools

We find it exciting planning our holidays, and I highly recommend using Lonely Planet guides. Click here to find out more if you’re itching to get planning that next holiday. Lonely Planet guides are all written by authors who have long-term knowledge and experience of living in the areas they’re writing about and I find they are really sensitive in meeting the needs of those who like visiting local markets, hiking nature trails, trying new foods and exploring out of the way beauty spots…as well as all the usual fun and trivial stuff which is all part of the joy of travelling too. You can buy the classic guidebooks, ebooks and even just PDFs of particular chapters you want.

I also find Trip Advisor incredibly helpful too as a free resource to research things to do at destinations. I’m a top contributor, so if you’d like to read some of my reviews, you can check out my profile and explore destinations you’d like to visit by clicking here.

4) Travel Green

Try to think about how you can reduce your carbon footprint with your mode of transport while you’re travelling. Sometimes you do just need to use a car, but often its cheaper, faster and more convenient using public transport like Eurail (which includes Eurostar) which we’ll be using to get to France and Germany this summer. Right now Eurail has 37% off their global passes – their biggest sale ever – so its a great time to think about booking your summer holiday on a budget. Click below if you’d like to find out more.

When flying, it may be cheaper to include stopovers, but its more environmentally friendly to fly nonstop (and less of a hassle generally) because take-offs and landings are what use the most fuel. So you’ll need to balance your budget limitations against how environmentally conscious you would like to be. Some airlines offer carbon offset programmes.

Remember that depending on the type of holiday you’re booking, you can also use cycling as a mode of transport which is good for your health and which will reduce your carbon footprint. It may not work for the whole trip, but even if just for a day or two it can be fun and bicycle rental is generally pretty inexpensive too.

There are also lots of places where you can even travel by ferry boat as a mode of public transportation and this can be really fun. We’ve done this in both Italy and Greece.

If you do need to rent a car, try to rent a hybrid car if its available. City buses, subways and trams are often much quicker than going by car and you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.

5) Prep a Travel Kit

I have a little kit of travel gear that I take with me when I travel and this helps me avoid creating too much waste when I’m on holiday. I have a lightweight hooded rainproof coat from LL Bean that folds down to a size not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes and I keep this permanently in the backpack I travel with, along with a lightweight plastic Keep Cup (for coffee and takeaway cold drinks), a stainless steel straw, my eco-lunchbox, a couple of lightweight produce bags, a cloth grocery bag that folds down super tiny, some Norwex travel cloths (which I use for everything from napkins to wiping snotty noses to sanitising surfaces in dubious hotel rooms – they have silver integrated into them so after a good rinse in boiling or hot water and allowing them to dry, they self-clean, as bacteria can’t reproduce on silver), a mini first aid kit and a teeny-tiny Thieves cleaning spray. Your travel kit has stuff that you need to help avoid using too many takeaway coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic cups, straws, paper napkins, kleenex, plastic rain ponchos, disposable wet wipes, plastic shopping bags and plastic takeaway boxes while you’re on holiday. These are the things that really add up, so by reducing these you can make a difference.

Think about when you go to a conventional resort – every time you order a drink you are presented with a new plastic cup and a couple of new plastic straws and you see stacks and stacks of used plastic cups and straws at every beach chair, every day. Its a bit sickening actually. If you have your own plastic or stainless steel takeaway cup (I recommend plastic or metal in this instance because you won’t be allowed to use glass around poolside areas) you can just hand this to the bar staff and have them refill it, using your own stainless steel straw (or no straw at all). Just this one change alone will make a significant environmental impact, so if you’re new to this whole world of trying to reduce your environmental impact, do this one thing as an easy start.

6) Eat Local

Research the local cuisines and foods and spend your money on those when you go on your holiday. If you’re staying at an apartment like an Airbnb (find out more here) then try to find local shops and farmers markets with locally grown or prepared foods to stock your apartment, or if you’re staying at a hotel, then research some restaurants which prepare traditional dishes made from local ingredients. Again, Lonely Planet guides and Trip Advisor are great at helping to research these types of details in advance. By eating locally grown foods, there will be less food miles, less carbon emissions associated with the foods you’re eating and you’ll be contributing more significantly to the local economy by supporting local farmers and growers and small business owners.

7) Choose Low Impact Activities

Okay, so if Disneyland is your destination, this might be harder to do. And its okay if you want to go to Disneyland – we’re not about judging here. But most places will have some kind of activity to do that won’t be so hard on the environment – like kayak adventures, bike rentals, hiking trails, finding non-touristy beaches (just – obviously – clean up after yourself when you leave) or visiting a local archaeological site. This is going to contribute to local economies more than hanging out at big chain restaurants/bars, spending the day on herbicide-saturated golf courses or going to theme parks (although I understand that all those things might be fun to do from time to time). By the way, that’s me below, back in the day, climbing my favourite route and below that I’m on a canoeing trip with my BFF last summer!

8) Buy Reef-Friendly Sunscreen

Not only is most sunscreen bad for your skin (remember all those chemicals you slather on your skin are absorbed and have to be processed by your liver), but they’re bad for the environment too. Sunscreen is responsible for damaging coral reefs. Thankfully, as a starting point, Hawaii has made the forward step of becoming the first US state to ban sunscreens which are harmful to coral reefs. Hawaiian Airlines has even partnered with RAW Elements sunscreen company to hand out complimentary samples of their products to passengers. That is cool.

I’m not a proponent of the no-sunscreen approach (because cancer, right) and am wary of homemade sunscreens as you can’t be certain of how old the products you’re using are and how much of the SPF is still active, but there’s no reason to slather harmful and toxic SPF products on yourself and your kids unless you are really faced with no other alternative (and yes, I’ve run out of sunscreen on holiday and had to do this). I haven’t tried RAW Elements yet, but they’re a good, clean brand with a plastic packaging free option and I intend to try them out this summer so I can report back to you.

Its not just sunscreen either – try to pack toiletries which have less environmental impact when they enter the water table. Natural soaps like Dr Bronners 18-in-1 or Moroccan Beldi soap and natural face oils, body lotions and deodorants are a good idea too.

9) This One is For the Girls

Yeah, this is a weird one for a travel blog to write about and it doesn’t apply to you guys, but read on, because frankly, this matters. Girls, your tampons are going to clog up the incredibly delicate plumbing systems in most countries that aren’t the US, Canada or UK. Okay? And your pads are going to take literally hundreds of years to break down in local landfill – or worse, the ocean. So make sure you have a menstrual cup and/or some period pants (both on heavy days) so you’re not causing any unnecessary environmental damage to the place you’re visiting. Make sure you use clean or freshly boiled water to clean your menstrual cup – at home I wash mine in the sink, but am a bit more conscientious when travelling somewhere where there may be more microbes in the water system. Period pants are an easy option too. I have a pair by Modibodi available in UK, NZ and Australia but my readers in the US and Canada can get theirs from Thinx.

10) Take a Water Bottle

Water bottle plastic waste is a serious issue and I don’t really trust that many places will recycle the bottles after we place them in the bin. Recycle bins can be difficult to find when travelling in remote locations. And if you don’t think that plastic water bottles are a problem…check out this lovely river in Guatemala (the beautiful country where I honeymooned, by the way).

Okay, so clearly we’re not going to drink from the taps in Guatemala or a lot of other places in the world where our stomachs could be affected by pathogenic microbes, so what can we do? Clearly safety is the ultimate priority and the answer is NOT just to bring your water bottle from home and cross your fingers you’ll be fine. There are companies which have developed non-chemical built in micro-filters which eliminates 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria (such as Salmonella, Cholera and E. coli) and 99.9% of protozoa (including Cryptosporidium and Giardia). They can weigh as little as just 2.7 ounces and the filter can purify up to 500 litres of safe drinking water from lakes, rivers, streams and tap water before they need changing. I’m currently doing research on which one I like best and will make a specific brand recommendation once I’ve tried them all out.

Thanks for reading what I have to say about eco travel. I’ve included two affiliate links in this post – to Lonely Planet publications and to Trip Advisor, both of which I’ve loved and used for years, long before becoming an affiliate. If you’ve enjoyed my content, please use these links to have a look at the products and make any purchases you’d like to. You’ll be able to take advantage of special rates you can get through my affiliate links and I’ll receive a small commission to help me pay for my blog. Thanks so much for your support!

Photo Credit: Lonely Planet Guides by Valerie and Valise

How to Fall in Love with Your Mountain Bike

She was called The Bobcat and it was 1985. My grandfather hauled her, all shiny and new – silver with neon lime and orange lettering – out of the back of his pickup truck and it was love at first sight. I rode The Bobcat up and down the dirt trails and backroads of Nova Scotia until about 1990 when I got too big for her and my mother gave her away to a neighbourhood kid. She was my first mountain bike.

Since then I’ve been a pretty avid cyclist – always mountain bikes. (I once tried using a street bike when we rented some in Amsterdam on holiday. It was embarrassing, I had no idea how to use a back brake and totally lost my temper.) But all through high school I cycled about 11 miles a day after school and I continued cycling until my mid 30’s when I moved to an area of London where my husband and I had 3 of our mountain bikes stolen in succession. So we gave up on owning bikes for a while and the only times since then I’ve cycled has been on holidays and trips to Canada where I could honestly spend days exploring the trails of Kejimkujik National Park. But now we live in a leafy, green suburb (still in London) and have just our daughter her first bike. So its time to get the family cycling again. Its something we’ve been thinking about since our trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland last year. It was an amazing place to hike, but we’ve been itching to get back there on our bikes.

The key to learning to ride your mountain bike is to ease yourself into it. You can do this and you will love it. I promise. You will get on that bike and you will just want to cycle for miles. And the next day you will ache. Badly. So start slow. Make the process a gentle one. Maybe just ride through the local park or around your neighbourhood (around 1/2 mile) for the first day, then make it a full mile the next day, and slowly ease yourself into longer rides. Make sure you can easily do a 3-5 mile ride before you start taking on any trails and always start with the easy (green) trails. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your phone with you so you can call for help if you do have an accident whilst out on the trail. These are just a few basic starter tips based on my knowledge and experience cycling in Canada, the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and here in the UK. Helpfully, Halfords have published a beginner’s guide to cycling which includes a great list of cycling trails throughout the UK, and rather helpfully they are graded for difficulty.

Getting Started

You honestly don’t need a lot of fancy kit to get started.

Essentially, you need a good quality bike that is well suited to your height and build, some comfortable clothes (nothing too loose in the legs, so it won’t get caught up in the gears) and a safe helmet. I survived with only these items for a long time. When you have the right bike, it makes all the difference in the world, so its worth spending just that little bit more money to get a comfortable one with good quality gears and Shimano brakes. I’m on the shorter side at 5’4″ so I prefer lighter and smaller 27.5″ wheels on my bike, and these are great for winding trail routes, however someone taller might prefer 29″ wheels.

Over the years I have found that there are a few other bits and pieces that can be helpful to have and I’ve listed them below:

Bike & Helmet

Obviously you need the bike, and the helmet is a no-brainer in this day and age.

Cycling Gloves

If you’re a bit of a weenie, like me, you might find cycling gloves will help you avoid getting painful blisters and callous build up on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. If you fall they’ll also help protect your hands from getting grazed.

Mudguards

I’ve never NOT had mudguards on a mountain bike. Why would you not have them unless you like having a vertical line of heavy mud spatter up your back and in your hair.

Lights & Reflectors

If you plan to ride at night or in the evening, you’ll need some lights. I don’t ever ride at night so I don’t have these – just a set of front and back reflectors.

Glare-Free Wraparound Sunglasses

When you’re riding in the daytime you’ll want some glare-free sunglasses. I’ve always worn a pair of Oakley wraparounds that I only wear for climbing and cycling. Sadly they don’t make that model anymore, but there’s plenty of new brightly coloured models to choose from if you don’t mind rocking the Dog The Bounty Hunter look. Actually I’m joking (kind of) as there are loads of tasteful options to choose from and the optical laser quality testing that Oakley performs on their lenses is second to none. Eye health and good vision is incredibly important to me which is why I feel passionate about this topic. I found a YouTube video on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. However, if Oakley is out of your budget, there are definitely lots of more budget-friendly wraparound sunglasses on the market.

Visibility Jacket or Vest

In terms of clothing, I have over the years bought cycling shorts, cropped cycling leggings, long cycling leggings and special cycling jerseys. But honestly I don’t think that most of it is all that necessary unless you’re commuting long distances with your bike, on a cycling holiday or taking up cycling at a really serious level. (Technical clothing is helpful for wicking away sweat, and can be comfortable, but for novice riders, a pair of jersey leggings and a t-shirt will do just as well.) I do think, however, that a bright yellow visibility jacket or vest is really good to have because you want to be sure, even during the day, that cars can see you.

Water Bottle or Hydration Pack

I’ve always been a fan of the old fashioned water bottle stuck in a little wire holder which is attached to the frame of the bike, but you can get hydration packs which will hold a lot more water for longer rides. I am intrigued by these systems and may well make the investment at some point. Again, this is only something you need when you’re on a cycling holiday or out for whole day rides. Not necessary for a morning pedal through Wimbledon Common.

Make Some Memories

A GoPro. Because there is nothing your friends and family will love more than watching infinite replays of your 4 hour cycling trail video. Well, maybe not, but you know, I’m a bit of a camera bore myself, and when you’ve done an amazing ride and you come out of the forest to a glorious sunset view of a lake or canyon or a secret waterfall, I can promise you, you will enjoy having a secret replay of it just for yourself, come January when your bike is tucked away in the shed and there’s snow outside on the ground. So meanwhile, start making those memories. (And you don’t need a GoPro to do that!) Get outside, hop on your bike, whether its Kielder, Kejimkujik…or even just Wimbledon Common, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

This post was sponsored by Halfords, the UK’s leading cycling retailer.

Balance Festival

Just so you know…this post isn’t sponsored and I wasn’t gifted any tickets to the event or items (although there’s lots of free samples of yummy goodies to be had at the festival)! I just enjoyed myself, so thought I’d share. 

If you’re in London and looking for something to do this weekend, why not stop by the Balance Festival at the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch. I went with a friend today and we took the kids and had a great day out.

I thought I’d mention some of my favourite vendors we chatted to today. They had no idea I was a blogger, so extra points for just being lovely, generous folks…especially the vegan brownie people who tolerated my daughter eating basically all their brownie samples.

And kudos to whoever hired the DJs. The chill out vibe was awesome and my daughter was dancing like a reckless hippy to all of it. Especially the Avocado & Chill station.

1. First we stopped at Escape & Bake, a healthy bakery who bake delicious refined sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free treats. Lots of the treats (maybe all, I’m not sure) were vegan and I bought a delicious millionaire’s shortbread.

2. Then we stopped by Soupologie who had hot soup machines pouring out cups of delicious vegan soups. I had the squash soup which I think had turmeric in it and it was delicious. They also have a new range of drinks made with fresh juice, probiotics and apple cider vinegar – the strawberry basil was delicious and I can highly recommend it. Though in honesty, I have a great juicer and a bottle of Bragg’s at home so will probably do my own DIY version as a daily drink. But these are great for on the go when you don’t want to buy anything sugary.

3. There were a lot of cold-pressed juice vendors at the fair. I mean a lot. And the juices were all pretty nice. I know that because I sampled ALL OF THEM. But I think my favourite was Daily Dose who had really beautiful blends with nutritious phytonutrient powerhouses added in like turmeric and ginger. Their strawberry juice was amazing. They also do little shots of more therapeutic blends. What makes them special is that they make their juices from wonky fruit and veg right here in London – in Battersea, while most of the other companies are having theirs made in Eastern Europe and shipped here. There was also a company called Revolicious which makes pre-made smoothies which I admit I don’t entirely understand, as someone who makes their own smoothies everyday. But they were super delicious.

4. We stopped for bags of snacks crisp type treats at Emily’s Crisps and Ape snacks, both of which I know because I’ve had them in my Vegan Kind box before. The Emily’s Crisps are nice, although still deep fried , but my absolute favourite are the Ape Snacks which I could probably live on. They were kind enough to give my daughter a bag of their coconut puffs and me a bag of the coconut snacks with sesame seeds which I love. They totally satisfy my sweet tooth cravings for some reason, despite not being that sweet. Hippeas were there too and I also really enjoy their snacks too. But not as much as Ape. Love those guys and their addictive little balls/dics of coconut deliciousness.

5. Califia Farms were there, although I didn’t talk to them. Their stand was pretty busy. But I am addicted to their Cold Brew Coffee made with almond milk and make a concerted effort NOT to buy it every week at the supermarket. After hearing so many cool things about Califia Farms from my fav YouTube channel Happy Healthy Vegan, I was so stoked when they first came to the UK. At first I found them at Whole Foods and it was something stupid like £6.99 for a bottle of almond milk, but now its a far more reasonable £2 (they have a much higher nut content than other brands and are carrageenan-free) at Sainsbury’s and probably Ocado too.

6. The lady at Urban Fruit gave my doe eyed daughter a bag of dried strawberries – little knowing they are her favourite on the go snack. So thanks Urban Fruit people! She ate them while having a chill out session by the DJ.

7. I stopped by Riverford Farms as I have been thinking about switching to a veg box delivery to make the whole plastic-free thing just a little bit easier. I was impressed that for £21 they do a mega huge weekly organic veg box, although they do smaller and cheaper boxes. They are also giving away a lovely cookbook to folks who sign up at the stall this weekend. I didn’t sign up right away, as I have enough cookbooks, but the vendor gave my daughter a cob of popcorn which we made up in the popcorn maker at home and which she is eating right now while watching The Good Dinosaur. It was really good popcorn. (I was allowed to try one piece. Just one.)

8. Having drank my last portion of vanilla protein powder this morning, I was totally out and am trying out all the vegan brands I can. Free Soul isn’t a vegan brand but they do a vegan line and its all clean ingredients. Its normally quite pricy at £24.95 a bag (as they told me) but they had a show special of £15 a bag, so frankly I wish I’d bought two. Meanwhile, as I was chatting to the ladies at this stand, my daughter was next door with her little friend cramming down all the vegan brownie samples at Superfood Bakery who sell brownie, cookie and pancake mixes – all clean ingredients and gluten free.

9. Finally in terms of non-food items, there were so many activities to do at the festival. I wasn’t able to take advantage of them because I had my daughter with me, but there were yoga classes and there was a TRX session in full swing as we went by and I must admit, I really really wanted to try out that workout as it looked pretty intense. But instead I put my name in to win something or other from one of the great workout clothing brands there – Every Second Counts and I really want one of their running sets, frankly. And lots of skincare and make up companies designed for people who like to be fully made up when they exercise I guess. If that’s your thing.

10. We finished off the show by stopping by at Optiat, a company which uses used coffee beans from London coffee shops to make a delicious-smelling range of body products. I bought some vanilla coffee bean body scrub. I mean, why did people stop making vanilla scented body products in 1998? I love vanilla and am so excited to have this. I’m kind of all stocked up on face care at the moment but am going to try their coffee face serum at some point. I also made one last spur of the moment purchase, getting this lovely glass flask from Noble Leaf to make tea with loose tea leaves. Perfect for taking to school and student clinic.

I lie. I forgot about the vegan Baileys. We stopped and I did try the vegan Baileys. And it was delicious.

Anyway, the event is on for the rest of the weekend, so stop by for a couple of hours, load up on free samples of yummies, chat to some of the lovely vendors and stock up on healthy goodies. And if you’re not in London, but in the Netherlands in September, they’ll be holding a second Balance Festival there. Just check out their website for details.



 

How to Make Your Own Cashew Milk

I like making my own cashew milk because its rich and creamy and it tends not to split in coffee or tea. I won’t lie and say I never buy store bought plant milks (because I do), but I try not to do so all the time because commercial manufacturers do add rather a lot of extra unnecessary additives. (However, as with cow’s milk, they do fortify these milks as well, so remember to adequately supplement your diet if you decide to eschew the commercial plant milks entirely.)  Of all the homemade plant milks I’ve made, cashew milk is my most successful one and everyone who has tasted it has loved it. It passes my “milk and cookies test” meaning it is delicious served neat in a glass with a cookie for dunking.

Nutrition-wise, cashews are one of the lowest fat nuts with around 82% of their fat being unsaturated, and of that, 66% is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, like the kind you find in olive oil. It has been found that when added to a low-fat diet, monounsaturated fats can help reduce high triglyceride levels in diabetes patients.  (Triglycerides are the form in which fats are carried in our blood and are what block our insulin receptors from activating and prevent glucose from entering our cells, thus keeping blood glucose levels high and contributing to the diabetes process.)

Cashews are also a great source of copper and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Its also great news that regular nut eaters tend to be slimmer than non nut-eaters and are also at a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, gallstones and Type 2 Diabetes. Just stick to your portion sizes of roughly 1/3 c of nuts per day.

I make my cashew milk quite extra thick and creamy, but if you want a thinner drink, just add more fresh filtered water in 50ml increments until you get the consistency you like. I also recommend buying cashew pieces because its often cheaper than buying whole cashew pieces. If you’re buying in bulk, make sure you store your cashews in the fridge (for up to 6 months) or the freezer (for up to a year).

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cashew nuts*
  • 6 cups fresh filtered water
  • medjool date*
  • Pinch of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (optional)

Equipment

Method

1. Soak your cashew nuts overnight (or for at least 4 hours) in 2 cups of fresh filtered water with the medjool date and a pinch of salt. You’ll be amazed at how plump and moist the nuts will become after even just a few hours of soaking.

2. After soaking, drain the pre-soaked nuts (and de-pitted medjool date) and add them all to a high speed blender with 4 cups of fresh filtered water. You can now add a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. This is optional, but I highly recommend it because of how delicious it makes the end product! Blend this mixture on a high speed for 1-2 minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is.

3. Strain the mixture through your nut milk bag* and store in a jar or milk bottle in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 days.

Tip: You can save any remaining strained nut pulp by freezing it and adding it to cookies or other baked goods at a later date, however if you have a high speed blender, you’re unlikely to have much or any pulp leftover.

cashewsSources: World’s Healthiest FoodsJournal of Biological ChemistryLivestrong, “How Not to Die” by Dr Michael Greger MD



*I’ve popped in a few affiliate links into this post, directly with Nutri Ninja (worldwide) and Amazon (UK), so if you’d like to support what I do here at Our Little Organic Life, then please do shop via these links – you don’t pay any more and I get a small commission. Thanks!