Sunday, 20 July 2014

Counting Butterflies

When I was little I loved seeing the butterflies in our garden. We have two fairly large Buddleia trees which were covered in the pretty things.  My favourite was the Painted Lady and other visitors included Peacocks, Whites, Tortoiseshells and Blues.

Butterflies are a good indicator of what is going on in the environment and if butterflies are declining then its likely that other wildlife will also be affected.  There's been quite a bit of the news in recent years about bees being threatened by changes to the environment and in fact certain pesticides that are thought to negatively affect bees have now been banned.  I don't know if pesticides affect butterflies too but I wouldn't be surprised if they are a factor.

There is a project currently taking place called The Big Butterfly Count, where the public are asked to take part in a survey and count the number of butterflies they see in 15 minutes.  We did two lots of 15 minutes yesterday and saw five Peacocks and two Whites in those time frames which we recorded via the The Big Butterfly Count App on my phone.  I did 15 minutes early afternoon and then my daughter counted another 15 minutes later in the afternoon.   If you want to take part, the survey is open until 10th August and I think it's a great way to get kids involved and interested in nature.

I've noticed an increase in butterflies this year in our garden and I wonder if that's a similar story around the UK or just because we have the right sort of shrubs to attract them.  We'll have to wait and see what the results say when they are published.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Like. Love. Loathe.

Bex from I Always Believed In Futures has invited bloggers to link up with their likes, loves and things they loathe.  So here are my three for this week.

* Like *
I'm always on the lookout for ways to be greener but also thrifty too, so the C4 programme "This Old Thing" presented by Dawn O'Porter is right up my street. My Littly and I are going to a vintage shop next week and, shock horror, I may even attempt some sewing on the machine that my Mum has given me (no idea!).

* Love *
I love being wheat-free. It's been 10 days now wheat-free and I have noticed a difference already as I'm not waking with digestive pain.

* Loathe *
I loathe our GP surgery and so it seems do most of its patients as it came 7946 out of 7952 in a recent poll!  Lack of empathy, patronising and dismissive - they are my experiences of the GPs there. I know they are busy but those traits are just not acceptable. Luckily another nearby surgery is happy to take us as new patients and my brief experience of them so far is positive.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Home-made Chia & Sunflower Seed Crackers

I was looking last week for an alternative to bread and crispbreads as most contain wheat and other preservative and I found these beauties on the I Quit Sugar website.  I came across I Quit Sugar after hearing Sarah Wilson, the author, on breakfast radio a few months ago.  She spoke so much sense and so I immediately bought the book and delved into the website.

You can get most of the ingredients in your local supermarket and certainly our nearest large one is now stocking Chia seeds.  If you can't find them, just visit your local health food shop as they will definitely stock chia.  Where it says almond meal in the recipe, that's the same as ground almonds in the UK.

It's a very simple process and one that my six year old could easily do - basically you mix everything together.  Now that her reading is improving, she can follow the recipe and we use the weighing out as a mini maths lesson.  I found our crackers sticking a bit to the baking paper when it came to turning them half way through, so next time I think I'll add another 10 minutes on to the initial cooking time.  Nevertheless the end result is well worth it. They are delicious, very moorish and surprisingly filling, plus I know we are getting a shed loads of goodness from them - protein, vitamins, calcium and no yucky stuff like.  They are great on their own, or spread with peanut butter, jam or with cheese and I've already had a request today for them to be the after-school snack.

1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chopped herbs (original recipe suggests sage, I used coriander)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat over to gas mark 3/160C/325F.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together in a large bowk the chia, sunflower and sesame seeds and the almonds.
In a smaller bowl mix together the garlic, water, herbs and salt. Pour this liquid mixture into the seeds mixture and stir until thick and combined.  Spraed the mixture onto the baking tray, using the back of a spoon, until mixture is 5mm thick.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, divide into 20 crackers and flip over.  Return to over for 25 minutes.
Cool on a tray.  Keep in a sealed container for up to two weeks.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Feeling more like a gardener and pressing flowers

I've been doing a little bit of gardening every day for some weeks now, much to my Mum's amazement.  I sent her an email of our gorgeous Lilly and she replied "I'll make a gardener out of you yet"  LOL.   She's been trying to teach me for years and years (except for 8 years I did live in a flat before this house).  I never remember the names of our flowers or where to put them, but gradually I'm learning.  I think I've finally started to take it in, maybe because of my interest in the vegetable side of things.   So it tickled me earlier when I could happily point out various flowers to my six year old and I could also instruct her on what to do regarding deheading.  She helped a little, but then decided handstands were better.

Garden RosePansie

We also picked and pressed some of our pansies and  we are going to use these to make cards for her teacher and TAs.  All we did was put the flowers flat between two sheets of tissue in the backpages of a heavy book (proper pressing paper is best but I haven't got any and I find toilet roll works fine!).  I think the light blue small one looks so cute, like a little face looking out at us.  I'll blog when we've made the cards next weekend..

From the veg garden so far we've enjoyed our first potatoes, tomatoes (so sweet), some beetroot, lots of spinach (I can't keep up with the rate it grows) and lettuce.  The carrots seem to have died and the courgettes are being attacked by something too which is a shame as they looked so promising.  I also now know to thin out the parsnips much more next year and that the broccoli needs a lot more room.  It's a learning curve, but a fun one.

My Mum is definitely making a gardener out of me yet.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Part Time Carnivore

I posted a while back about Meat Free Monday because I think it's important for our health that we give our digestive systems a rest and it's important for the environment too.   I'm not completely meat-free though, although was once for 8 years back in my 20s.  I quite like meat, but I wouldn't be bothered if I couldn't eat meat again.  My other half, on the other hand, would not entertain turning vegetarian.  Whilst he's all for healthy cooking and he does a mean Thai Beef Curry, he would draw the line at a a life of beans and pulses. Interstingly, my daugher who has school lunches, often goes for the veggie option but she too likes to tuck into a bacon sarnie.

Considering I do most of the grocery shopping, I do tend to limit the amount of meat we have each week.  I guess you could say we are part time carnivores.   So it was interesting to meet an organisation at The Allergy Show/VDelicious who call themselves just that - Part Time Carnivores.  I think they have a great message to get out there - they are not saying we have to give up meat competely, because there are many who just won't do it and so completely ignore the communication about the health and environemtnal consequences that eating meat can bring.  But I'm sure many confirmed meat eaters might actually just be ok with cutting down once, twice, hey even three times a week if they knew what that meant, safe in the knowledge they won't be made to feel guilty if they also happily indulge in their steak and chips or bacon sandwich.

I was staggered by some of the facts Part Time Carnivore gave me:

  • 90% of all soy is fed to animals.  It's estimated that by growing crops just for human consumption we could fee an extra 4 billion people!
  • There are 27 billion livestock animals on our Earth.  Two thirds of them live in factory farms and their feed is grown on land much of what used to be rainforest.
  • A meat-free day saves 1611 litres of water.
  • A meat free day save 8kg of CO2.
We all need to play a part in becoming healthier and our environment more sustainable.  If you'd like to know more and to pledge to having some meat-free days each week, then visit Part Time Carnivore. There's some great meat-free recipes over on their website too.

Disclaimer: I haven't been paid or sponsored to write this post, I just thought it a great initiative that I wanted to share with you.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A new dairy-free and wheat-free life.

Yesterday was day 1 of my wheat free and dairy free life following my food intolerance test at The Allergy Show.

I'm not a complete stranger to wheat-free. Since I've always suspected I'm wheat intolerant, I've often had wheat free days especially when I'm juicing and I know I always feel so much better. Twenty-odd years ago I gave up wheat based bread for a year when I had post viral fatigue after glandular fever and it definitely helped me improve my health. I also, back then, drank soya milk for a time too.

This time I'm aiming to be completely wheat free so I'll be looking carefully at ingredients. It's not just bakery products but also things like sausage and stock cubes that also contain wheat flour. Going dairy free sounds simple except again there's going to be a lot of research to do. I can easily substitute cows milk with coconut milk, soya or almond milk in tea and coffee, but again so many products, including gluten-free, contain cows milk.

Yesterday was ok.  I fancied some toast later in the day and had bought some gluten-free bread from V Delicious.  The thing I find with gluten-free bread is that it's a bit dry, it just doesn't reach the part that wheat flour bread reaches.  Any suggestions for a gluten/wheat free bread that isn't dry?

Today I met a friend for coffee and really fancied a naughty nibble even though I had had breakfast (a green juice) an hour earlier.  Fair play to the cafe for offering four items of gluten-free goodies but I didn't want a full on slice of cake at 9.30am, just a biscuit or a small sweet bite.   Oh, by the way I am now addicted to the cookie shots from Foods of Athenry (they haven't paid me to say that, they are just sooooo moorish)! It's that sort of thing that the cafe could have done with.

I haven't converted my other half and daughter to wheat free (and not sure I ever will as far as he is concerned even though I'm sure his digestive system would welcome it and so would I!).  Saying that my daughter would happily drink a green juice for breakfast - she had some of mine this morning - but I feel she needs something more substantial.  I might see if she fancies the gluten free bread tomorrow although she is one for routine.

Talking of the juice, whilst she's pretty good with her vegetables, my daughter will tell you she hates celery, kale and avocado, yet those in addition to one apple, a thick slice of lemon and half a cucumber were the ingredients for my juice and she loved it!

Right, time for a cuppa (green tea or peppermint?) and some more cookie shots and if you have any suggestions regarding the bread, I'd love to hear.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Food intolerance testing at The Allergy Show

I had a day out yesterday at Olympia where in the Grand Hall was four shows in one - The Allergy Show, Love Natural Love Organic, The Back Pain Show and V Delicious.

As soon as I arrived, the first stand I saw was an allergy testing one offering food intolerance and allergy tests using a blood test.  Having never had a test before but always suspected I had some sort of intolerance, I opted for the Cerascreen screen test to test 12 of the most common foods associated with intolerances.  A quick prick (ouch) of my finger and a tiny vial was filled to be analysed by the technicians on site whilst I looked round for the rest of the show.

V Delicious LogoThe Allergy & Free From Show Logo

There was a wide range of exhibitors promoting household items, food and remedies to help fight your allergies in the allergy section.  In the V Delicious section was a vast amount of exhibitors all of whom had lots of vegan, vegetarian and free-from tasters available - I didn't need lunch!  There was some of the more well known brands also small new companies and some lovely artisans. I'm addicted to the Cookie Shots from Foods of Athenry. I was amazed by the Thermomix but quite gobsmacked by the price!

The Love Natural Love Organic section hosted quite a few organic skincare companies. I particularly liked the lady on the Spezia stand who said I had lovely skin and couldn't quite believe my age :-)  I could have spent a fortune in this section.

I would have liked to have seen more household items exhibited like cleaning products, there seemed to be only a handful of exhibitors of this nature.

Love Natural Love Organic logoThe Back Pain Show logo

At the back of the hall (very fitting) was The Back Pain Show, with various therapists  and companies explaining how they can help alleviate pain, together with furniture companies to help improve your posture when sitting or lying. I had five minutes on a TENS like machine which was a little uncomfortable and then sat on a spiky plastic mat which apparently works on your acupressure points, also very uncomfortable. I was glad to see the Bowen Therapists there again who seemed to have a steady flow of people popping by their stand for tasters.

Half way through my day, I went back to the allergy testing stand for my food intolerance results.  No surprise to find out I had a 'strong positive' reading for wheat.  I bloat a lot after eating it so I quite expected that result.  I'm fine with gluten generally though.  But what surprised me was that I recorded 'strong positive' for cows milk and hens eggs.  Thinking back, I did go through a stage of drinking a lot of hot milky coffee every day and then the following morning I'd always wake up with digestive pain.  I've often tried milk alternatives just because I'm not comfortable with the hormones that end up in milk, so am familiar with almond, soya and coconut milk. Of course this also means no more cows milk yoghurt or cheese and I also need to check the ingredients lists because so many products are made using cows milk.

Going around the food stands, I found that many of the gluten-free products were diary free too but not all were egg free so I'll be looking into egg alternatives and blogging about what I find.

Sadly it does mean no more egg custard tarts for me!

The shows are back this time next year but if you can't wait that long, like me, then they'll be in Liverpool in October.

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