Category Archives: American & Canadian

Alternative Natural Sodas

The other day after coming out of the mum & baby cinema around lunchtime, I was absolutely famished, and headed into the Gourmet Burger Kitchen across the street for a veggie burger.  It was a hot day and before I knew it I had seen the chilly, frosted iconic glass bottle and had ordered myself a coke.

For me that coke was a very rare ‘treat’.  But like our American and Canadian friends, many Brits continue to drink their calories in the form of beer, wine, juice and soda.  I don’t need to shock you with the risks associated with soda consumption, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and obesity…because these aren’t shocking facts anymore.  They’ve been around for a long time now so its so easy to glaze over when you read them and just not take them seriously.

The high fructose corn syrup which sweetens soda comes from genetically modified corn that contains pesticides which – in only seconds – destroys your good gut flora, ruining immunity and contributing to an overall immune-compromised body that constantly struggles to find nutrients for survival and systematically loses the ability to fight off pathogens, parasites and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

You’ll probably also know that diet sodas are just as bad, with research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showing that diet soda intake is directly related to abdominal obesity in adults over the age of 65 and the waist circumference amongst diet soda drinkers being three times that of non-diet soda drinkers.  Oh poo.  Well, there goes that plan.

Overall, surprise surprise, its just better to drink water.  The University of Bristol and Bangor University found that drinking sweet tasting drinks, regardless of their sugar content or lack thereof, dulls your sensitivity to sweet tastes in general and the sweet treat you once enjoyed becomes less of a special reward.  This establishes a vicious cycle eating sweet foods and drinks on a regular basis.

Okay, so water’s great as a daily thirst quencher, but what about on those special occasions like a BBQ or family movie night in front of the TV where you really do want a treat.  I’ve tracked down the…not ‘best’, but ‘least detrimental’ options for you which are available here in the UK:

Zevia

cola-flavorZevia do every flavour of soda you could want, from cola to grape soda to cream soda and root beer, all packaged in aluminium cans (although they do a glass bottle range now as well).  They do a tonic water for those of you who miss the occasional G&T and – get this – they even make a ‘Dr Zevia’.  Its sweetened with stevia, monk fruit and erythritol – all plant-based with no caloric value or effect on blood glucose levels – and they are Non-GMO Project Verified.

The good news is that in the US and Canada it’s available nearly everywhere.   EDIT 2018: The bad news is that here in the UK it seems to have been halfheartedly launched a couple of times, but never really took off, which is a shame.

Whole Earth

range-refreshingWhole Earth are a London-based company here in the UK which grew from a small macrobiotic restaurant back in the 60’s.  They make a range of organic sodas packaged in aluminium cans.  They make a cola as well as cranberry, lemon and elderflower sodas.  You can see their macrobiotic roots reflected in their cola which is flavoured with barley rather than the weird and wonderful botanicals you seem in some natural colas. They’re sweetened with organic agave nectar which has a lower GI than cane sugar.

Fever-Tree

2663-200ml-white-indian-tonic-low-res-rgbFever-Tree are a UK luxury botanical drinks company.  They primarily make mixers, such as tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale and lemonade.  Their drinks are beautifully packaged in glass bottles so you do feel you are drinking something special with their products.  As a result, they have rather a lot of rewards to show for their efforts.  Their drinks are all sweetened using natural cane sugar and natural fruit sugar.

But, remember, its still sugar.  Its still going to spike your insulin levels.  Its still high GI.  It still has calories.  But its ‘real’ sugar, so it will be less damaging to your gut than the sugar you’ll find in a can of Coke.

Fentimans

fm_colaFentimans market their sodas as “botanically brewed beverages”.

But at 50 calories per 100 ml, their Curiosity Cola comes in at 8 calories per 100 ml higher than a can of Coke and it contains glucose syrup, yeast, sugar, unspecified flavourings, and a variety of e-numbers such as caramel colour (E150d) and phosphoric acid (E338).  Oh, and it is caffeinated as well.  It has been labelled by The Guardian as “The World’s Best Cola” however, so its up to you if that’s how you choose to spend your daily caloric intake.

They do a number of other flavoured sodas and cocktail mixers as well,  including a delicious Rose Lemonade (coming in at a whopping 52 calories per 100 ml).

They’re not organic and they only will confirm that their Victorian Lemonade and Ginger Beer are GMO free.  (Find out more about why you’d want to avoid GMO’s here.)  As such, I opted not to do a ‘taste test’ of their cola for this article and would NOT consider Fentimans to be a healthy alternative to conventional soda.

Roots

Because this article is about soft drinks available in the UK, we now come to Roots, a small, small, independently owned soda works in Granton, Edinburgh.  They make their soda by hand hoodoo-sodaand claim that their beverages are all natural fizzy drinks comprising of carbonated water, freshly squeezed whole fruit juice, raw cane sugar with infused flavour from herbs, spices, and petals.  Their sodas contain no artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings, preservatives or caffeine.

They’re not organic, but I like that they market their sodas as a special treat, only to be consumed once in a while, because “sugar is still sugar, and both fructose and sugar are *not cool* for us.”  At the moment there are only a couple of places in London carrying Roots sodas (BrewDog in Camden and Shoreditch).  I’m a mother of a 4 month old baby, so heading off the Shoreditch with the pram to taste a soda for my blog article wasn’t going to happen.  And as the company couldn’t provide me with a sample of their product for this article, I have to say I haven’t tried it yet.  I’ll update this article when I’ve done so.

Coca-Cola Life

Sigh.

1673295-slide-coca-cola-lifeOkay, I’m including this product in this article in no way because I think you should drink it.  I’m including it because some people will want to know:  “Is this a healthier alternative?”  Yes, its a healthier alternative to Coke Classic, in the way that cigars are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

To start with, the green label is an absurdly obvious bit of greenwashing, as is the 30% of the bottle being made from unspecified plant-based resources (which I seriously suspect is GMO corn).  The product was launched in Argentina a couple of years ago and has now made its way to the UK.  (Pepsi have a similar product called Pepsi True, but as it doesn’t appear to be available in the UK, I’m not including it here.) EDIT 2018: This product was phased out of the UK market in June 2017, but it’s still available in around 30 other markets, including the US.

Coca-Cola Life contains 1/3 less sugar than regular Coke, but still contains 2/3 of whatever awful sugar it is that Coke uses in their normal soft drinks, along with a bit of stevia for “Natural Sweetness”.

And it tastes awful to boot.

 

Minimalist & Eco Baby Essentials (2018)

Having your first baby is a bit like getting married.  The minute its obvious that you’re pregnant, sales clerks see pound/dollar signs in neon lights on your forehead.  There are so many things to buy.  All of them designed to make your baby smarter, better, faster, happier, cuter…and with a rounder head.  And very little of it do you actually need.  But when you tell the sales clerk you’re looking to buy organic, environmentally responsible products…well…weirdo.  Sadly, I suspect that those of us looking to buy natural products for their babies are in the minority, because even the big ‘healthy living’ stores like Planet Organic and Wholefoods have very little to offer aside from nappies and baby skincare.

As I’ve recently had a baby, and have gone through all the trouble of tracking down these products for my own use, I thought it might be helpful to share my list of essential items to have prepared at home for when your baby arrives.  You can get most of these things from Amazon, however, if there are local eco stores in your town, I would encourage you to shop there…or better yet, see if you have friends and family who could lend you or give you hand-me-downs of the following items. So many of these items are used for such a short time, and not all can be found in environmentally friendly versions or at least in effective environmentally friendly versions.

As a blanket statement, when buying new cotton items, I prefer to buy organic, but if you’re getting non-organic hand me downs or gifts, don’t sweat it and just use those.  Why buy organic?  Because cotton production is responsible for 25% of the world’s insecticide use and 10% of its pesticide use, with those pesticides being amongst the most hazardous and carcinogenic.  Not only do you not want any of that residue against baby’s skin, it’s just more environmentally responsible.

Hospital Bags – For You & Baby

Make sure that you have two bags ready to pack.  It’s much easier to keep your things separate from baby’s things.  This is so your things can be easily accessed during labour and you’ll only need access to baby’s things once he or she is born.  Your bag should be a small suitcase or duffle bag and baby’s bag can be your nappy/diaper changing bag.  My husband bought me this Skip Hop changing bag for Christmas before the baby was born and it was perfect to have in hospital, it was an absolutely fantastic changing bag for the first couple of years, and to be honest, it is so well made that I still use it to this day as a little overnight bag for my daughter when travelling.

A Carrier

When it comes to wraps, it’s probably best to go to a sling library if there’s one near you to try them out.  They just weren’t for me.  But a fitted carrier was perfect for us.  You can get this Ergobaby carrier we used to carry our daughter when hiking in Italy.  We loved it so much, we even bought the Ergobaby Doll Carrier version for our daughter to carry her ‘baby’ around in now!

Something to Sleep In

I know plenty of people who used an empty drawer as baby’s bed for the first few months of their lives.  And others who chose to co-sleep.  But…I wasn’t about to put my baby in an empty drawer.  And despite being a natural mama, I just wasn’t comfortable with the risks associated with co-sleeping (even with safe co-sleeping guidance) because I am a very heavy sleeper.  We were given a Moses basket and I found it useful having her in the basket right beside my bed to pick her up for comforting and late night feedings.  I liked that it was made from renewable resources and would easily biodegrade once it had reached the end of its lifespan.  I found the Moses basket to be convenient, safe, easy to move around the house and inexpensive.  Only you will know how long your baby needs to be sleeping in your bedroom with you, but the Moses basket will contain them for roughly 3-6 months before they outgrow it and need to go into a cot (unless you are a long-term co-sleeper).  To go with the Moses basket, you will need a mattress, fitted sheets and ideally a stand or rocker base.

I’ve included links below to a plain, palm basket (the same one we had), a natural mattress to fit it (it comes with a mattress, but you may wish to have a natural mattress which is free from any toxic chemical residues) and the same rocker base we had.

You may be able to live without the rocker base or stand…but your lumbar region may not, so give it some consideration.

Two fitted sheets should be enough.  I recommend organic cotton jersey sheets.  The jersey is soft and doesn’t need to be ironed.  There are organic waterproof mattress protectors for Moses baskets, but unless your mattress isn’t already waterproof, as most are, you won’t need one of these and it is just an added expense.

Cellular Blanket

You will be given many, many blankets as presents.  Some for the cot, some for the pram.  But just in case these don’t appear until after baby is born, its best to ensure you have one in the house ready to cover your baby in their Moses basket and/or pram.  Cellular blankets are made with a loose weave so if the blanket goes over baby’s face, they should still be able to get air and will be less likely to overheat which is associated with cot death.  The cellular blanket options in the links below are made from organic and unbleached cotton, silk, bamboo and merino wool, so even if you’re vegan there are natural options.

Muslin Squares

Prepare to spend the next six months of your life mopping up poo, wee, vomit and drool.  You will get used to it.  These muslin squares were recommended to me by every parent I know.  And they were right.  They serve as burp cloths, drool catchers, towels, napkins, baby wipes…you name it.  Its best to buy around 20-24 of these.  Organic cotton is good, but bamboo is far more absorbent and the ones below are made from organic bamboo.

A Tippitoes Bath & Sponge

I am recommending this product specifically by brand as it has a raised section in the base and anti-slip back rest that helps babies feel supported and safe.  Everyone told me to not bother getting a baby bath as you can wash them in a sink or the dish pan.  This was bad advice!  I did this for the first few weeks and consequently my little one hated bath time and screamed her way through – first in the dishpan (which was awkward) and then in the sink (which was uncomfortable for both of us)…until my friend lent me her son’s Tippitoes bath that he’d outgrown.  Bath time instantly became fun, for both baby and me.  She felt supported and safe and I was able to have more fun with her as she splashed around and giggled.  More practically, I could finally wash her more easily with the sea sponge now that I wasn’t having to hold her in place.  This product is not natural.  It is plastic and it is expensive-ish for what it is at around £13.99.  Unfortunately I now can’t seem to find it for sale anywhere, so here is a similar alternative which is a best seller on Amazon. However, there are still plenty of the Tippitoes tubs which can be found second hand on eBay.  Don’t bother buying any baby toiletries as they are too harsh for baby’s newborn skin and you won’t need them until later down the road.  For the first year or so, I still only used coconut oil with a single drop of lavender or chamomile essential oil to wash my baby. If you absolutely, desperately need some soap, a drop of Dr Bronner’s baby wash is adequate.

          

Baby Towels

Your baby will need a couple of hooded towels for after bath time.  Lots of shops recommend Cuddledry apron towels which do look really cozy and th309010_baby_hooded_towel_set_enviro__540x540_q85_crop_subsampling-2ey are organic.  If you can afford them at £29.99 each, great.  However we just bought very simple, hooded organic baby towels which we use for bath time and now that our baby is older, we can take them to the pool too. Norwegian company Norwex also do a very deliciously soft baby towel set too, but they aren’t organic and they aren’t cotton or bamboo – but it is embedded with antibacterial silver, to help bacteria from surviving on the surface of the towel between uses and it comes with a little wash cloth. So there are a few options for you to consider, all of them excellent. Heck, I’ve even bought second hand baby towels and just put them in a good boil wash to get them clean.

Baby Wipes

There are some wonderful ways to make your own reusable baby wipes at home and below is a link to my YouTube video on how to make easy DIY homemade wipes in 10 seconds flat using any old cloths you have available.

For when you’re on the go, Norwex do a set of gorgeous thick baby wipe cloths embedded with antibacterial silver with a chic little reusable wet wipe bag. I used to recommend Water Wipes for on the go, but now I think these completely address the difficulties of doing baby changes out of the house.

55bc356915d5af1ae3f2ff97cf0f1991Even if you already plan on using reusable wipes, you may want to make your life easier when baby comes – even just for the first couple of weeks – by using Water Wipes.  I’m not here to judge if you want to use them longer (just please don’t flush them!). You’re going to be so busy at first, feel free to be kind to yourself and give yourself one less thing to think about washing.

The olive oil and cotton wool combo recommended by the hospital is just really messy and you cannot use conventional baby wipes on a newborn – nor would I want to do so at any stage (have you seen the ingredients in those things???) – but Water Wipes are 99.9% water and .1% fruit extract, so they’re very gentle on baby’s skin and they do an excellent job of cleaning even sticky meconium.

Nappies

You’ll need to have some disposables packed away in your baby’s hospital bag anyway, so just go ahead and buy a pack of eco-friendly disposables.  We are a cloth nappy household and I would encourage anybody else to do the same.  Modern cloth nappies are effective and just as easy to use and maintain as disposables.  But for the same reasons as recommending the Water Wipes, you’ll want to make life with a newborn as easy as possible for those first couple of weeks.  Out of the natural brands of nappies, we found the Swedish brand Naty, available here in the UK, worked the best for us and our friends.  They are made from GMO-free corn, are biodegradable and don’t contain the chemicals found in conventional brands such as Huggies and Pampers.  We also tried Beaming Baby Biodegradable Nappies but found them to be consistently very leaky.   Bambo Nature Nappies are great as well and are widely available.  We still buy the eco-friendly disposables for longer outings away from home so I recommend finding one that works for you.  That being said, I would discourage anyone from buying conventional disposable nappies.  The average baby will create around 2 tons of nappy waste in their lifetime and this will take a minimum of 500 years to degrade away in landfills, so please do give cloth nappies or at least eco-friendly disposables a try.

If and when you are ready to try cloth nappies, remember that every baby is a different shape so different cuts or brands may fit them best.  I learned the hard Apple+Cheeks.jpgway that you also get what you pay for with cloth nappies.  Also, if you buy ‘one size fits all’ nappies or nappies that are too big for your newborn, you will get lots of leaks and you’ll be put off the whole idea of using cloth.  For us, AppleCheeks and FuzziBunz brands were, and continue to be, the best.

If you want to cloth diaper from birth then I would recommend Fuzzibunz because they offer an x-small nappy (4-12 lbs) whereas AppleCheeks size 1 only starts at 7 lbs.  That was fine for our big baby but if you know that yours might be a bit more on the tiny size, then Fuzzibunz may be the way to go.  You can also buy your cloth nappies second hand.  eBay has now banned this practice on their site, but there are lots of Facebook groups where you can buy and sell second hand cloth nappies.  It’s not as gross as it sounds and its a cheap way of trying out different brands.

There have also been a few new nappy start up companies within the last year or so, and it might be worth giving one of those companies a go to see how you like their functionality and fit.

Footed Sleepsuits/Onesies

You know that cute little Ralph Lauren mini version of Daddy’s sweater vest and khakis ensemble or the adorable Bonpoint dress with cashmere cardigan you’ve already bought your bump?  Yeah, they won’t wear it.  I mean you might get it on them for a photograph and for meeting the grandparents or something, but your newborn will be much happier in sleepsuits.  And you’ll be happier having them in sleepsuits because they’re so freakin’ easy to get on and off.  No ironing of tiny miniature pleats or ruffles.  Again, I recommend organic and buy a few newborn sized ones, if you can find them.  They won’t be wearing them for long but even if you have a big baby, you’ll still get a couple of months’ use out of them.  You can then either save them for the next baby, donate them to a charity shop, eBay them or sell them on one of the plethora of specialist organic baby clothes buy & sell groups on Facebook.

I say ‘footed’ sleepsuits so you don’t have to use those horrible little newborn socks that don’t stay on and will just clog up the filters on your washing machine.  It’s the same for scratch mitts.  If you can find a sleepsuit with built in scratch mitts, you’ll appreciate it so their little talons aren’t ripping apart both you and them.  (Tip:  If you insist on using newborn socks and scratch mitts, wash them in a lingerie bag so they can’t get into the nooks and crannies…and filters and mechanisms…of your machine.)

Unfortunately when my baby was born, I couldn’t find any organic sleepsuits in newborn size, so we used a combination of second hand normal cotton sleepsuits in newborn size and some 0-3 month organic Toby Tiger sleepsuits.  I have now found that L’ovedBaby make newborn sized sleepsuits and sleepgowns.

          

Bodysuits

Have around 3 to 5 or so of these on hand before baby arrives in newborn size.  If your baby is born during the colder part of the year, they are handy to layer underneath their sleep suit as an extra layer of warmth.  In the summer it may be their main wardrobe staple.  What we found worked best for us were these little kimono style bodysuits by L’ovedBaby which wrap around your baby rather than being pulled over their heads…something which is incredibly enraging to a newborn for some reason.  Down the road they will also be awfully helpful at containing poo blow outs.  The L’ovedBaby 100% Organic Cotton Kimono Short Sleeve Bodysuits come in loads of lovely colours and are available in newborn size which will fit preemies – something normally quite tricky to find in an organic brand.

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A Newborn Hat

Just buy one of these little Newborn Baby Hats.  These little white Engel brand ones look like the one which Princess Charlotte wore when she came out of hospital and they are made from 70% Organic Merino Wool and 30% Silk and they even come in a Preemie size (2-5 lbs).  Little babies only need a hat on indoors during their time in hospital, as they’ve just popped out of a very warm, cozy environment into a cold one.  Once they’ve acclimatised however, don’t keep the hat on all the time while indoors like your mother and grandmother will tell you to do.  Overheating your baby is linked to cot death and unless your house is very cold, keep the hat off until you go outside.  Cotton ones are more common, but wool ones are designed to help regulate baby’s temperature and avoid overheating.  If you do prefer cotton (or if you’re vegan and eschew wool and silk) these colourful Toby Tiger jersey hats are so incredibly soft and are in such fun colours…though we only discovered them once our baby was a couple of weeks old.

A Swaddle & This Book!

Buy something to swaddle with and a copy of this book:  The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp, MD.  It does what it says on the tin.  Key to the whole process is swaddling your baby.  So get a swaddle.  Even if you think your baby doesn’t like swaddling.  Get a swaddle.  You can buy a fancy swaddle like the Gro Swaddle which is idiot proof (I say from experience) and comes in a non-organic option which has recently been redesigned and updated to be better for hip development.  You can also just use a big square of fabric like a blanket in winter or a big muslin square in summer.

     

A Car Seat

If you have a car, you will need a car seat.  If you don’t have a car but ever travel in other people’s cars or in taxis, you will need a car seat.  What you don’t really need is a car seat base.  While they are incredibly handy for easily clicking the car seat in and out of the car, they are expensive (considerably more than the seat itself) and are unnecessary.  It takes about 10 seconds to buckle baby into their car seat with the seatbelt.

Do try to get a car seat which is compatible with your model of pram/stroller.

For instance, we have a Bugaboo Cameleon3 pram/stroller system and for our first carseat,Stokke iZi Go 120330-6921 black_15844 we bought Swedish made, uber safety conscious BeSafe iZi Go carseat with five point locking system which clips on to the Bugaboo base with adapters.  You can use the same adapters with Maxi-Cosi carseats.

Do try to get a car seat with a five point locking system, if possible, for added safety, or buy a five point locking systems adapter to fit onto your existing car seat.  Its available from places like Halfords (here in the UK).

A Pram/Stroller System

Pram and stroller shopping is like buying a new car.  You cannot do it online.  You have to go to the actual store – perhaps several times – and try each stroller out, weighing up the pros and cons of each.  It is a major investment.  It is also probably the only baby-related thing your husband will enjoy buying.

It’s great to enjoy shopping for this item together, but it is whoever is planning to be the primary caregiver who needs to make the final decision on this item.   If you are the one who will be spending the next two and a half to three years pushing the child in it all day, everyday, then you need to know it will be a reliable and comfortable system for you to use.

You will very likely wish to buy something which converts from pram to stroller so you can use it from newborn to toddler stage.

If you live in a city, make sure you buy something lightweight, with a sharp turning radius and something which is not too wide so you can get onto trains and buses easily.  If you live in the country, make sure you get something with heavy duty enough wheels to manage gravel, mud and grass which little wheels can get stuck in.  We went for the Bugaboo Cameleon3 because it managed all of the above criteria really well, but there are other good systems available at a lower cost.  You can get second hand Bugaboo strollers on eBay, and all the parts are available to buy separately, so it means if one piece breaks or is damaged, you don’t need to scrap the whole stroller.  My friend bought the base chassis second hand for £80 and then bought all the other bits, such as the pram and stroller fabrics, new,  which saved her a bundle and got her a very nice pram/stroller system for her little boy.

Newborn Healthcare Kit

At some point within a day of two of getting home with your baby, you will be convinced that your little one has a fever and you will need to obsessively take their temperature, or you will need to suck out the little baby boogers from their sniffly noses, or to trim their tiny talon-like nails that grow incredibly fast and are oh-so-sharp.  Or if your baby isn’t bald (mine was) then you might even just want to brush their lovely soft hair.  This is when you will need a Healthcare Kit.  Its not quite as serious as a first aid kit, but is more than just grooming tools.

Bottles

However you end up feeding your baby, it is helpful to have a couple of bottles on hand.  You don’t need to buy a steriliser or a breast pump in advance.  Unless you’re full time formula feeding, a steriliser is just another big piece of equipment on your kitchen counter and it’s quick to sterilise using boiling water by immersing everything in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes.  The bottles will stay sterile in a covered saucepan for about three hours afterwards.  While you may end up buying your own breast pump down the road, don’t bother doing it now.  You can rent the really good hospital grade breast pumps from the NCT, your hospital, a variety of commercial companies or your local children’s centre which often rents them for free, with a deposit which is refunded when the machine is returned.

We bought these Nuk glass baby bottles which don’t leach any chemicals into our baby’s milk (there are more endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastics than the now-banned BPA, I’m afraid, so BPA free just isn’t enough).  There are a number of glass baby bottles on the market but we found the Nuk ones were the least expensive, were sturdy (not a single breakage yet) and they have the benefit of the Nuk anti-colic teats which you can buy at plenty of local pharmacies and supermarkets.  Edit:  Also over time we have found them to be useful as snack pots for older baby/toddlers because they come with little screw on lids to replace the teats. So very zero waste…I’ll be using them for years!

If you’re worried about breakage – fair enough – the LifeFactory ones are really cool and come in gorgeous colours (see below) and they are covered in silicone sleeves so they don’t break when dropped.

    

Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) for Dummies

A lot of my friends seem to be not that bothered about GMOs.  I mean, they’ll agree they’re not good and will tsk vaguely about bees dying or something, but for the most part, they seem to confuse genetic modification with cross-breeding (i.e. modern cross-bred grains) and they don’t go to any particular lengths to make sure the food they’re buying doesn’t contain GMOs.  Mostly they’ll just look at me like I’m a lovable hippy, a luddite or I’m about to author a book on how GMOs are linked to the FBI, JFK and the moon landings or something.  But gradually people are starting to realise that concern about GMOs is not about rejecting science and the modern world and its not about conspiracy theories.  Many modern scientific discoveries have turned out to be wonderful (IVF, insulin and the mapping of the human genome and epigenome)…so it was bound that some discoveries would go equally wrong. I am not a scientist, but I thought it might be helpful to share a quick rundown on the basics of what I know about genetically modified foods and why I choose to exclude them from my family’s diet.

What are GMOs?  

Well, to start with, GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms.  They are created in a laboratory by the artificial manipulation (gene splicing) of the genetic material of living organisms to create unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes. Sometimes they’re marketed to the public as being a ‘good thing’ for the world and the beginning of the end of world hunger because they promise drought resistant crops and increased nutritional values.  However, in reality, GMOs are both anecdotally and evidentially responsible for health problems, environmental damage and violations of the rights of both farmers and consumers.

But they’re safe, right?  I heard there were studies that proved they were safe.

Well, there have been studies conducted in the US testing the safety of GMOs…oddly enough, conducted by the same biotech corporations that originally developed the research and continue to profit from the sales of the same products. It speaks strongly that more than 60 countries around the world, including all the countries in the EU, have significantly restricted or banned the production and/or sales of GMOs.  In contrast to that, in the US, GMOs are in around 80% of conventional processed foods…but considering American foods are shipped all around the globe, that means you really have to think about the foods you’re buying. If you’re just starting out, the foods which are most likely to be genetically modified are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soya, sugar beets and zucchini.  These are the foods which are between 88-99% GMO in the US and are therefore are easy ones to try to avoid when you’re out shopping.  Not easy when you have to remember to check for soy lecithin, a common emulsifier (think nearly every chocolate on the market), cornstarch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup (again, its in so many processed foods) and canola and cottonseed oils (sometimes labelled very vaguely and they can be sneakily added in very small quantities into healthy foods like dried fruits which are packed with a little bit of oil).

Are you crazy?  Are you saying I can never eat corn or soya again?

You can, of course, eat what you want.  But if you choose not to consume or support genetically modified foods, just make sure that when you’re buying foods that contain the main offenders listed above, that you buy the organic versions.  Certified organic foods cannot be genetically modified.  Some US and Canadian certification labels allow for a very small margin of cross contamination these days.  For that reason, some organic food companies have chosen to boycott the organic certification labels and can no longer label their foods organic.  So if there’s a food you like and its not labelled organic – go to the producer’s website and check out their ethos or call up the company.  Very often you will find out about the company’s stance on GMOs in their FAQs and I have been surprised at some of the brands I like (Genius – in the UK – and Linda McCartney to name a couple) which are GMO free.

OK, but if these foods have been designed to be more resilient, then at least there will be less need for pesticides, right?

Again…no.  The toxicity of herbicides such as Roundup has been increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.  The companies developing the GMOs are also the ones who are developing and selling agricultural chemicals.  I’ll leave it to you to do the math. In fact, one of the reasons that organic plants are better for you is because they are forced to be ‘tougher’ and not mollycoddled with pesticides.  Studies have consistently shown that while organic plants are not necessarily better than non-organic plants in terms of their micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), there is a significant increase in the amount of phytochemicals in organic plants.  Phytochemicals are the compounds that give vegetables and fruits their natural properties which we benefit from when we eat the plants – such as being anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer.

Why do you eat GMO-free?

Well, I hope I eat GMO free anyway.  There is always the risk of some cross-contamination in some crop which becomes an ingredient in a food I eat and glyphosates (the key ingredient of Roundup) have made their way into the water supplies of many areas.  And when you eat in restaurants, there’s no way of knowing unless they promote that they are GMO-free (like Chipotle).  But I’m pretty darn vigilant for the sake of me and my family because: 1 – I don’t want my baby girl consuming the ever-toxic pesticides which cover both these and non-GMO conventional crops. 2 – I don’t like the dirty behaviour of those who hold the patents on GMO crops.  Through the use of their vast budgets and political influence, they are allowed to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with GMO crops when drifting from neighbouring fields. 3 – And ultimately the long term health and environmental impact of GMOs are an unknown factor.  But if the short term impacts are anything to go by (a sharp increase of inflammatory gut conditions and autoimmune disorders of near pandemic proportions), I’ll pass on finding out the long term impacts, thank you. Maybe this will be helpful to some of you who have seen the anti-GMO bandwagon passing by and have had no clue why to jump on it.  Maybe you’re already on the bandwagon but have no clue why.  Or maybe this is all new to you.  I’ve now shared what I know…let’s just hope ‘the man’ doesn’t come and get me now! 🙂

the bees at happy hour

Somehow in London, Thursday has become the new Friday. As I walk home after work in the bracing November wind, most pubs are warm inside and are abuzz with City suits and secretaries at happy hour.  I was reminded of this happy little video I put together in the summer, back when I enjoyed warmer days watching the bees at Bello Uccello apiary  having their happy hour.  How can you not be happy watching the little bees enjoying their verbena bee tea?  I hope you enjoy it!

 

Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

You know, I can take or leave most sweeties. Cakes & cookies. Pies & palmiers. Trifles & tortes. Biscuits & brownies. I like them, but could easily live without them. I do have a sweet tooth but it its usually reserved for my one special love: ice cream.

Which has always been a real shame for me, because most ice creams and frozen yogurts on the market are pumped full of either refined sugar (a toxin) or worse, aspartame (a neurotoxin). I also find that frozen dairy (UPDATE 2018: I’m vegan now) never sits that well in my tummy and as I’ve been experimenting with raw vegan recipes lately, I’ve noticed a trend amongst the food blogging community for throwing frozen fruit into the blender and serving it as soft serve ice cream. I’ve totally followed the crowd on this one. But why not? Its so much tastier and healthier…and MUCH easier to make than the process of churning homemade ice cream I remember from my childhood, which involved pre-freezing the metal canister, making a custard, then waiting AGES for the ice cream to finish churning around.

This recipe is vegan, free of refined sugars and naturally fat free. It is also “raw” if you use the cacao powder option and leave out the maple syrup, but I’m not too bothered about that.

I’ll admit…its not a great photo, but quite frankly, I was far less interested in food styling my dessert than I was in eating it!

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 over-ripe medium organic bananas
  • 1.5 to 3 Tbs dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably organic) or cacao powder…whichever is fine
  • 2 Tbs organic maple syrup

Step One

Peel 3 medium sized over-ripe bananas and freeze them overnight.

Step Two

Once the bananas are frozen hard, take them out of the freezer and give them a rough chop, toss them into your high speed blender or food processor* along with the maple syrup and cocoa powder. If you want a milk chocolate appearance – like old fashioned soft serve – use 1.5 Tbs of cocoa powder. If you want a rich uber-dark chocolate appearance like an Italian gelato, use 3 Tbs of cocoa powder.

Step Three

Whiz everything around in a high speed blender* for about 2-3 minutes. It will be loud and crashy-bashy sounding, but at the end, you’ll end up with smooth, rich ice cream which you can either eat right away or put into a tupperware and freeze for a hard ice cream later on.

If you want to make it look like a soft serve ice cream for children, just pop it in a piping bag with a wide star tip piping nozzle and immediately pipe into the cone or dish.

Its so easy. Its so sweet. And its so healthy. Just give it a go…

blending the ice cream



 

 

 

 

 

*This post contains affiliate links to Nutri Ninja, the brand of blender and food processor I’ve been using for a few years now, so if you shop using my link you won’t pay anymore, you’ll get free next day delivery and you’ll be helping to support my blog.

Nova Scotian Hot Water Gingerbread

rain gearAfter three weeks in the 30-odd degree sunshine of Guatemala and Belize, I have returned to an England which might not be unfamiliar to the Bronte sisters. Its late May, but there has been snow in some parts of the country. In London its 9 degrees Celsius and its raining; its been this way – more or less – over the last fortnight.

The good news about the cold, rainy weather – the only good news about the cold, rainy weather – is that I have an excuse to wear my new wellies A LOT and I get to eat porridge for breakfast every morning. (By now I would normally have switched to a bircher muesli for the summer) The café in my building makes excellent porridge. I know, I could make it myself at home for pennies – but for £2.50 I get a pot of porridge, a skinny cappuccino and a chat with Alvin, fellow foodie and café manager.

I had been desperately hoping to host a BBQ this coming long weekend. In anticipation of that, I had a builder come round last Saturday to construct a wooden deck in the back garden and I employed my husband to put together the John Lewis BBQ we were given as a wedding present last autumn. The rattan outdoor sofa set with matching coffee table has been artfully arranged on the deck and I’ve attempted to give the place that smack of Pottery Barn style with conch shells, pillar candles in glass hurricane vases and throw cushions…none of which have any business being outside in cold, wet English gloom. And as its now looking less and less like BBQ weather, I may be trading in prawn kebabs and sunscreen for central heating and comfort food. In fact, I might make some gingerbread.

This is old fashioned Nova Scotian gingerbread. I’m fairly sure it came off the back of a packet of something or other sometime back in the 1950’s because my best friend Sarah’s grandmother’s recipe is exactly the same as my own grandmother’s recipe.

Hot Water Gingerbread

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Crosby’s fancy molasses (Brits – you’ll need to use a blend of golden syrup & dark treacle here)
  • 1/2 cup hot water (near boiling)
  • 6-8 Tablespoons melted butter

1. Mix dry ingredients.

2. Beat egg and add molasses, sugar and hot water.

3. Combine the dry and wet ingredients.

4. Add butter

5. Pour in 8 by 8 inch square cake tin.

6. Bake 350 for 45 minutes.

Sarah’s Mom says that this recipe doubles really well (their family is much bigger than mine). Also the old, dark metal tin which used to belong to Sarah’s Nana has gone missing, so if you see it, please send it back to her.

Bad Wife Cupcakes

The funny thing about marriage is that whatever action one spouse decides to take, it has an impact on the life of the other.

For instance, if Mr Harris decides to spend all day Saturday holed up in the living room with a case of Corona and a bag of pretzels watching the last leg of the Six Nations, it kind of affects my plans to spend a romantic afternoon, hand in hand, perusing Borough Market day.  And if I decide to catch up with some girlfriends for dinner at the Covent Garden Hotel one evening after work, that means Mr Harris orders a takeaway Chinese and eats it on the sofa in front of the TV while feeding prawn crackers to the dog has had his day impacted by my actions.

So at 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon when my husband excitedly pointed out to me the recipe for Skinny Red Velvet Cupcakes he had found on a foodie blog, I was…well, slightly taken aback by the sudden interest in cupcakes, but happy to go with his plan to stop by Sainsbury’s to buy the ingredients.  Mr Harris – on the rare occasions he does visit the kitchen – never bakes or cooks using what’s in the cupboard.  Any recipe requires a major shopping trip and an entire restock of our pantry WHETHER IT NEEDS IT OR NOT.  At quarter to five when we arrived home, the sudden passion for making cupcakes had somewhat disappeared and the lure of watching a week’s worth of CSI episodes on Sky Plus had become a far more attractive alternative.  It was at this point that I found myself in a kitchen full of mixing bowls and muffins tins, elbow deep in pink batter.

So, I made the cupcakes.  And they turned out fine.

It was at this point that Mr H wandered into the kitchen and interest in the recipe suddenly reignited.  He decided to take over the real man’s work – frosting.  He insisted that I leave ‘his’ kitchen while he prepared the cream cheese frosting.  I felt distinctly nervous about the whole thing for several reasons.  Mainly because Mr H didn’t have much experience eating cream cheese frosting, let alone making it.  The whole thing smelled of disaster.  With a self satisfied look on his face, he proudly produced a bowl of thin, gloopy…not frosting…possibly icing?  It tasted of cream cheese and wasn’t really all that sweet.  Worried he’d predict my lack of faith and duplicitous nature, I waited until he’d gone back to the living room before quickly grabbing what was left of the icing sugar, dumping it in the bowl and rapidly transforming the sweet soup into a slightly thin, but acceptable form of frosting.

I joined my husband in the living room several minutes later.  “See?” he said, with a self-satisfied look on his face.  “I told you it would be fine and YOU didn’t think I could do it.”  I apologised and told him I was wrong.  I told him his frosting was excellent.  And quickly returned to the kitchen to finish decorating the cupcakes before he suspected the truth – that I am a bad wife.

So, I return to my original point.  The funny thing about marriage is that whatever action one spouse decides to take, it has an impact on the life of the other.

Oh, and by the way, by the time I was finished with these cupcakes, they weren’t ‘skinny’ anymore.  Here’s the recipe.  With good cream cheese frosting.

Bad Wife Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 cup moscovado sugar

1 tbsp unsweetened dutch-process cocoa

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp white vinegar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce or mango puree

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 egg

2 egg whites

2 tsp vanilla

1 1/3 cup light buttermilk

1 tbsp red food colouring

1.  Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake tins with liners.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together flours, salt, cocoa, and baking powder.

3.  In another large bowl beat sugar, applesauce and butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

4.  In a separate bowl mix baking soda and vinegar. Add half of the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, mix well. Add buttermilk, red food colouring and mix well. Add the remaining dry ingredients and fold in vinegar and baking soda.

5.  Pour in prepared cupcake liners 3/4 of the way.

6.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool, then frost with low fat cream cheese frosting.

Good Cream Cheese Frosting

300g Icing Sugar, sifted

50g Unsalted Butter, at room temperature

125g low fat Cream Cheese, cold

1.  Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.

2.  Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed.

3.  Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.