Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eco Friendly Kids Room Ideas

We recently redecorated our daughter’s bedroom. I won’t say it was a total eco job, as due to her large scale artistic proclivities (i.e. she draws on the walls) we had to use special washable paint on the walls rather than a natural pigment paint like Frenchic. Also the gorgeous giant tree and animal decals on the wall aren’t very eco friendly, but I know she’ll enjoy them for a very long time. I was originally planning to paint something myself – like a totem pole mural – but my husband ordered them on a whim and she loves them, so that’s that.

1. Toy & Book Baskets

These beautiful baskets from the Sourced by Oxfam online shop are fantastic. They’re made from Kasia Grass by a pioneering fair-trade organisation called The Jute Works in Bangladesh. They empower socially disadvantaged rural artisans within the local indigenous community and those living with disabilities. They’re great for shoving toys and books into, but also make great laundry baskets too, really for any room in the house. Here’s the links for the smaller basket at £9.99 and the larger basket at £14.99. They’re beautifully made and are marvellous value, as I’ve spent far far more on similar items at Anthropologie and the Conran Shop in the past.

Honestly, I just like lots of trugs and baskets around my daughter’s room to make clean up easy for her.  At 3 years old she does have some household chores and one of those is the tidy up her own toys at the end of the day, to book any books back on the bookshelf and to put her dirty clothes in the laundry bin.  It doesn’t have to be neat or perfect or put away in the “right” spot, she just has to do it.  Does it reduce the amount of mess she generates during the day?  No.  Do I feel it’s good for her to have some routine and sense of ownership for simple responsibilities which will help her develop healthy habits as an adult?  Yep.

2.  Trade in Old Clothes for New

Surely I’m not the only person with the unsightly and ever growing bag of kids clothes my little one has grown out of.  I sometimes struggle with giving away “special” pieces to the charity shop, but I love the concept of Treasure House, where you can join up, get £15 credit to spend on second hand children’s clothes from their site, and they’ll send you a baggie in the post so you can send in your used and outgrown children’s clothes and they’ll give you more credit to use in their online shop.  I think it looks like a great idea and am excited to try it out. There’s everything from high street Zara, Levi’s and Boden to designer Chloe, Bonpoint and Marie Chantal. While I don’t really wear much designer stuff myself these days (nothing new at least), I must admit I do enjoying spoiling my little girl with pretty pieces and it does help declutter.

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3. Choose Natural Materials

Now, I’m not gettin’ preachy on y’all here.  We love our Playmobil, Tiger Trunkie, giant Melissa & Doug giraffe and plastic baby doll with matching stroller as much as anybody else.  But there is a gentle feeling to a child’s room which is filled with more natural materials.  It softens the space somehow. In our home, this means decorating with natural baskets, using unbleached organic cotton bedding, thick cotton drapes, a simple wooden bed, and more wood, felt and paper toys as well as a good wardrobe of dress up clothes.

Our daughter and her friends all love their wooden balance boards. They use them as side-to-side rockers, turn them into bridges and ramps and integrate them into their imaginary play.  We bought ours from a company in Hungary called Creatimber and they come in lots of colour options. They’re hand crafted, eco friendly, and they help improve children’s body awareness, spatial awareness, balance and coordination skills, they help build self confidence and encourage creative sensory play.

We are also about to commit to doing a regular nature table in our daughter’s bedroom as she loves collecting all sorts of seasonal bits when we go out – conkers, pebbles, leaves, sticks, seashells…you get it.  Setting these out on a table with a few decorations, such as naturally dyed play silks to create grass, ground, lakes and rivers (my grandmother bought our daughter hers from an Etsy shop) and some lovely Holztiger and Ostheimer  wooden animals from Germany looks quite magical.

 

How to Conserve Energy in the Bedroom

We’ve just moved our bedroom into the new loft space we had added to our house and with the new Velux windows and French doors, as well as improved insulation, we’ve noticed a huge difference in the temperature management of our house this summer and we’re hoping that will carry through into the colder months. It’s made us really conscious of our energy usage and while we will be saying no thank you to getting a smart meter, we will be trying to implement small, sensible measures to cut down on our energy usage. 

Here are some tips which I’ve asked SleepHelp.org to prepare to help you with practical tips to reduce your energy use in both summer and winter.

If you sleep eight hours every night, you’ll end up spending nearly one-third of your life in the bedroom. And yet, it’s easy to forget about energy conservation in a room where you’re usually unconscious. However, there are many things you can do to cut down on energy use while you sleep.

Check the Seal Around Windows and Doors

Windows and outside doors can be areas of significant heat loss so give the seals a good once-over every few months. Keep an extra tube of caulking on hand to seal any draughts you notice when the weather changes.

Start Temperature Management Early

You have to start thinking about temperature management before it gets too hot or cold in the bedroom. During the summer, block out light and heat with blackout curtains, heavy drapes, or blinds. In the winter, keep them closed when it’s coldest outside to prevent heat loss. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever have your curtains open, but you’ll need to keep them closed in order to strategically to cut down on energy use.

Unplug and Consolidate Your Electronics

Even though you’re not using the television, it may be in standby mode which still uses power. Try using extension cords to plug all your electronic devices, including lamps and speakers, into a single power strip. At night and when they’re not in use, turn the power strip off. Flipping one switch is easier than walking around the room and unplugging every device.

Open the Windows and Doors

This one’s really only feasible during the summer, but it can cut down on your air conditioner use. If possible, open your windows and doors to let the cool evening breeze move through your house. Not only has fresh air been shown to help you sleep better and improve next-day performance, it brings the temperature down without the use of your air conditioner.

Adjust Your Bed for the Season

Your mattress and bedding are a big part of your comfort while you sleep. Today, more than ever, there are more organic and environmentally-friendly mattress options. You also can read our article on choosing the right natural mattress here.  Try to choose one that works with your climate to provide good temperature regulation. For example, plant-based memory foam mattresses usually keep heat and moisture against the body so, in general, they’re warmer. Innersprings and hybrids tend to allow more airflow and, therefore, are cooler. You can use your bedding to your advantage as well. Natural fabrics like linen and cotton have good breathability for summer and warm, soft flannel  bedding will help contain heat in the winter.  A wool blanket thrown overtop the duvet will help trap the heat and keep you cosy and toasty warm on cool autumn and winter nights too.

Install a Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans may use electricity, but less than an air conditioner. They can be used in a couple different ways to help manage the temperature in your bedroom. Most of the time, the blades pull air up from the ground where it’s cooler. In this case, they keep the cool air circulating through the room. If your windows are open, they can also help pull air into the room. In cooler months, you can switch the direction of the blades, which will circulate warm air back to the ground. While you don’t want to have your fan on high in the winter, blowing warm air to the ground can heat your room up faster. (My family does this and I can promise, it really does work!)

With lights off and curtains closed, you’re ready to cut your energy use in the bedroom. Some of the other changes may require a little more time, but they’re worth it to lower your carbon footprint and reduce your energy bills.


 

This article was a non-paid collaboration written by Amy Highland, a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

Five Reasons for Choosing Organic (And One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics)

I started writing about organic eating in 2011 and since that time, this blog has grown to incorporate green, natural living and eco-travel.  In the intervening 7 years, organic food has become much more prevalent, with more people choosing to buy organic on a regular basis.  Which is great, but sometimes when a movement becomes widespread, it becomes a bit like white noise.  We forget WHY we initially made the choice to switch to organic and our intentions become less resolute.  And some folks probably never really knew why they started buying organic foods in the first place, other than for vague reasons about it being “healthier”.

In short, by buying organic food, personal care products, home products and clothing, you are making a decision to consciously support sustainable agricultural land use (as well as a positive impact on the natural lands which surround it – for the wild birds, bees, flora and fauna), improved animal husbandry welfare (including no routine use of antibiotics which is important as we sit on the cusp of the post-antibiotic era), no use of artificial colours or preservatives which is better for your body and you’re also buying products made from natural materials which will more easily break down into compost at the end of their useful life, rather than spending the next 500 years in landfill.  So many great reasons to make this conscientious decision to buy organic as often as you are able.

What first inspired me to create this blog was my desire and passion to share with others why I choose to buy organic food, clothing and home items as often as I can. And I haven’t done that in a while, so I thought I’d remind my readers (and myself!) my main evidence-based reasons for choosing – and continuing – to buy organic.

Learn More – GO! Organic Festival (8-9 September 2018)

If you live in the UK and you’d like to explore more about organic living, my first suggestion is that join me at the Battersea Park on 8-9 September 2018 and celebrate everything organic at the GO! Organic Festival.  They’ve very kindly partnered with me to sponsor this article and to offer you the opportunity to win a free pair of tickets (see below). I’ll be there, so let me know in the comments below if you’re coming too! Buy your tickets HERE.

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There will be loads of organic food and drink (including beers & wines), celebrity chefs, pop up vendors and a marketplace with lots of my favourite organic companies including skincare companies, clothing and homewares.  (One of my favs, Greenfibres will be there too, you can check out my review of their pillows HERE.) There’s also a MainStage with a great line up of music.

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Oh, and if you have kids, can I just say that Andy (yes, CBeebies Andy, THAT Andy) and Mr Bloom will be there too!  There will also be facepainting, etc. In other words, it’s a very family friendly day out.

You can win a free pair of tickets by entering our Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

In the meanwhile, start supporting your local farmers markets and natural foods shops, and when you do buy a packaged product, learn to read the label. You don’t need to change everything in a day, but the more you learn about why some people choose to buy organic foods, clothing and personal care products.  If you’re a bit skeptical about  why its important to buy organic and would like to learn more about why I “became organic”, then I invite you to keep on reading…

Why Did I Choose Organic?

I sometimes hear really intelligent people say that buying organic isn’t necessary because it’s just a marketing ploy to charge more, and that makes me sad. (I hear this a lot in the vegan community, and we should really know better.) Because while these folks are partly right that there is a marketing element to the organic label certifications and branding, that’s not why I choose to buy non-sprayed,  non-GMO foods, clothing and home products.  In fact, on many occasions the organic products I’m buying aren’t labelled organic at all.  I just talk to the farmer or producer and find out what farming and production methods they’re using.  I encourage you to do the same. I like supporting local farmers wherever possible, but I also have good reasons for making sure that I’m choosing organic products (and supporting organic producers, including those who go to the effort of obtaining pricy and demanding organic certification standards).
The US National Academy of Sciences reports that 90% of the chemicals applied to the foods we eat have not been tested for their long-term health effects before being deemed as “safe.” Furthermore, the US FDA only tests 1% of foods for pesticide residue.

“The most dangerous and toxic pesticides require special testing methods, which are rarely if ever employed by the FDA.”

Here are my top 5 evidence-based reasons for living an organic lifestyle.

1. Genetically Modified Foods

I’m not afraid of the boogey man or Franken-whatever – that’s not why I don’t eat GMO foods.  The point of most widely available GMO foods – especially the big ones like corn, wheat, canola and soya – is that they are branded as “Roundup Ready” and as such, the plants are designed to be resistant to higher levels of glyphosate so that more weed-killer can be used for a higher product yield – levels of toxins which would kill a conventional plant. Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup and it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical which the WHO has listed as a probable carcinogen, in particular linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and to which there is increasing evidence and current legal debate that it causes genetic damage.

So when you see “soya”, “soy”, “canola”, “corn”, “fructose”, “glucose fructose”, avoid buying those foods unless they are labelled as organic or non-GMO. (Foods labelled as non-GMO, GMO-free and Non-GMO Project Verified foods aren’t necessarily free from Roundup (glyphosate) and other harsh weed-killing toxins like Dicamba (also produced by Monsanto), but they will have lower levels of those poisons. I won’t lie – I do occasionally buy those types of non-GMO foods, but it’s better to buy organic as often as possible.  I tend to apply a 90/10 rule at home – 90% organic, whole foods (I prefer to eat whole foods for my own health reasons – you don’t need to do that) and 10% fun foods (my fun foods are always vegan and always GMO-free, organic where possible). It’s nearly impossible to guarantee eating GMO-free when you go out to restaurants unless you eat somewhere like Chipotle, the first national chain restaurant to cook with all non-GMO ingredients. Just do your best.

If you want to know more about practical ways to avoid GMO foods, check out Mama Natural’s blog post on how to avoid GMO’s. You can also check out my previous article on the subject.

If you don’t have the time for reading all those articles and you don’t have time to read labels at the supermarket, the easy solution is – just buy and eat organic food.  

Organic food cannot be genetically modified, so it’s an easy cheat to avoid having those toxins in your food.

2. The Health of Agricultural Workers

There are over 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides used in the agricultural industry worldwide (1 billion of that is in the US) and with woefully inadequate hazard assessments taking place, especially when chemicals are combined, each year 25 million agricultural workers experience unintentional pesticide poisoning.

(Note, I’m not even touching on how those chemicals affect the environment, animals, the bees and bird life.)

Personally, I care about the health of all those agricultural workers and their families and I don’t wish to contribute to risking their lives so I can have a cheap bag of Doritos or whatever.

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3. Groundwater Becomes Poisoned

The US Department of Agriculture has found that the groundwater which provides drinking water for around 50,000,000 people in the US has been contaminated by pesticides and chemicals from the agricultural industry.

“According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, it is estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests. The bulk of pesticides (99.%) is left to impact the environment.”

But maybe you’re not a statistics person.  Maybe you need to see an example of the kind of thing I mean, so please check out the video below showing the issues with the Costa Rica pineapple industry.

4. Because Pesticides Get EVERYWHERE

Even household dust (in addition to food and water) is now contaminated with pesticides, particularly in rural agricultural areas. Studies have found that children between 3 and 6 years of age received MOST of their dermal and non-dietary oral doses of pesticides from playing with toys and while playing on carpets which contributed the largest portion of their exposure.

That means the dust from the air settling on the toys of our kids  – on the objects we use everyday – is toxic.

That bit of dust that’s settled on Sophie the Giraffe or my daughter’s favourite blankie is toxic.

Do you find that as shocking and distressing as I do?

This means the more of us who buy and support organic, the more farmers will be able to make the viable economic decision to farm using sustainable, organic methods and this will mean gradually, fewer and fewer pesticides in the air, especially in agricultural areas where this issue is most prevalent.

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5. Increased Nutrient Values

In the past when I researched this topic, there didn’t seem to be much evidence that organic foods had much more nutritional value than conventionally grown goods, aside from increased phytonutrient content.  But more high quality studies and reviews have shown that foods grown in well-nourished soil, using organic, sustainable practices have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

As an example, five servings of organically grown vegetables  can provide an adequate daily level of vitamin C, where the same number of servings of conventionally grown vegetables do not.

Organic produce, on average, contains:

  • 21.1% more iron
  • 27% more vitamin C
  • 29.3 more magnesium
  • 13.6% more phosphorous

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One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics

There is one aspect to buying organic food which does get my back up.  And its not the perceived increase in cost. When I go into the supermarket, all the organic produce seems to have extra layers of plastic. (You can watch my Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget video here to see what I mean.)  I appreciate the supermarkets need to differentiate the conventional produce from the organic for pricing reasons, but surely they could do that with produce stickers rather than having to add so much plastic. This isn’t an issue when I can make it to the farmer’s market or when I order my organic fruit and veg box from Ocado (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com to get a voucher to save £20 off your first order) or from Abel and Cole or Riverford Organics (my downstairs neighbour uses Riverford on a weekly basis and I’m always so jealous of the gorgeous produce she gets each week).

However, the good news is that supermarkets here in the UK (where I currently live) are soon going to have to become more accountable for their plastic usage in the coming years so thankfully this should become less of an issue in future.

Resources: 

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/
3.  https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/a20453119/top-reasons-to-choose-organic-foods/
Nielson EG, Lee LK. Agricultural Economics Report Number 576.US Department of Agriculture; Washington: 1987. The magnitude and cost of groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals: a national perspective.

Identifying populations potentially exposed to agricultural pesticides using remote sensing and a Geographic Information System.

Ward MH, Nuckols JR, Weigel SJ, Maxwell SK, Cantor KP, Miller RS
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jan; 108(1):5-12.
4. Biologically based pesticide dose estimates for children in an agricultural community.
Fenske RA, Kissel JC, Lu C, Kalman DA, Simcox NJ, Allen EH, Keifer MC
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jun; 108(6):515-20.

Organophosphate urinary metabolite levels during pregnancy and after delivery in women living in an agricultural community.

Bradman A, Eskenazi B, Barr DB, Bravo R, Castorina R, Chevrier J, Kogut K, Harnly ME, McKone TE
Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec; 113(12):1802-7.
5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/107555301750164244

Photo Credits:

Farmer photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Baby photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Kale salad photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash

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

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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%.

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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

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!