Thursday, 18 December 2014

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad (Lahpet Thoke)

You'll soon start to notice that I absolutely love, and am always inspired by, Asian food. My particular obsession at the moment is Burmese food. Ever since I travelled through South East Asia last summer, I've been hooked on Lahpet Thoke, or Tea Leaf Salad.



It may sound strange, but Tea Leaf Salad is a warm salad made of fermented tea leaves, crunchy nuts and needs, and other vegetables served over rice. It's a little bit salty, a little bit spicy, and very addictive. There are several recipes more making it, but I'll share what I like to throw together.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How to Have a Sustainable Christmas!

You know what I love about Christmas? Seeing my family, playing cheesy Christmas songs, sharing a few glasses of wine over a delicious dinner.

What I can't stand about Christmas is the amount of consumerism and waste that it brings. Getting into debt to pay for presents is so normal that the Internet is full of guides on how to avoid digging yourself into a black hole of debt. We spend hours obsessing over what to get, who to get for, who we need to send cards to and what we might do if our loved ones don't like their presents. As well as the financial cost, the aftermath of Christmas is a pile of paper, an expanding waistline (and accompanying feelings of guilt) and, probably, a pile of presents that nobody really wanted in the first place.

How about, this year, you avoid the waste and the stress, and go for a sustainable Christmas? What I mean by this is a Christmas that:


  • Doesn't break the bank (i.e. it is financially sustainable for you)
  • Doesn't result in a lot of waste (sustainable for the planet), and
  • Brings feelings of joy and love instead of guilt and anxiety (sustainable for your wellbeing)!
Some of my ideas may seem a little extreme, especially if you're used to big shops once a year. Still, hopefully at least one or two of them will give you a bit of inspiration!


1. Cut out wrapping paper!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

10 Lazy Ways to Help the Environment

Our planet - a huge, beautiful place, and yet one that many of us don't think about that much. We breathe its air, eat food grown from its soil, drink its clean water, and yet it could wipe us out easily with a well-aimed earthquake or tsunami.  Doesn't such a magnificent thing deserve a little respect from us all?

More and more helpful incentives are coming into effect to help us live "green" lifestyles - recycle bins, charging for plastic bags in shops, and some places even offer money when you recycle glass bottles. Still, I know that it can often seen time consuming, or inconvenient, to do the "green" thing, and while we can't all live off the land from a tepee (sounds interesting, though!) there are a few simple actions that we can all take to help reduce our impact on the earth.

1) Reduce your bottled water consumption - bottled water is not better for you, not safer than tap water (in the US and UK, anyway), and most people can't tell the difference. Don't believe me? Watch Penn and Teller's "Bullsh*t" episode about bottled water here - it's funny and very enlightening. Imagine filling a bottle of water 1/4 way with oil - that's how much oil was needed to produce that bottle, according to Kids National Geographic! As well as requiring loads of resources to make, these bottles cause a ton of harm when we throw them away. Have you ever heard of the North Pacific Garbage patch? Due to ocean currents, a LOT of our rubbish ends up here... imagine an area the size of Texas made up of over 80% plastic. This material never fully breaks down, meaning that it ends up being swallowed by fish. As well as this, those bottles take up a lot of landfill space, and the alternative - burning them - releases loads of harmful toxins into the air. Not to mention that toxins might even be leaking into your water from the bottle (see here). The first thing you can do, of course, is recycle those bottles - at least then they can be made into nice things like carpets and fleece. If you live in a country where it's safe - drink tap water; you can buy a filter and stick it in your fridge, too. When you're out and about, re-use your bottles or take a flask of water with you. If you really like your water carbonated, you can invest in a Soda Stream - it make your water sparkle in seconds, and you can buy flavoured syrups to turn it into cola/orange soda/lemonade etc.

2) Re-use your shopping bags! - this is becoming easier, especially in the U.K. where many places charge 5p per plastic bag. It's easy to forget, so try to have at least one folded plastic bag in your handbag (for spontaneous shopping). Even better is to use a fabric bag, like the "Bags for life", which cost a little more but aren't plastic!

3) Use energy-saving light-bulbs - They do cost a little more, but they also last a lot longer, and as well as being better for the environment they'll save you a ton on your electricity bill. It only takes one moment at the store to choose an energy-saving bulb over a normal one.

Just remember how beautiful our planet is!
4) Recycle! - OK, we can't always be sure that the things we recycle are really ending up where we want them to. By just separating your own rubbish, maybe using two or three bins in the house and hauling them outside into the separate bins, you're doing a lot to help. Take the bins down on your way to work, have the separate boxes/bins next to the main bin so that you remember when you go to throw something away. It doesn't have to be a huge deal - just make it part of your routine.

5) Buy second hand, sell your stuff - why always buy new? Perhaps we're worried that we'll seem poor or stingy if we hold on to our old things or don't have the latest fashions and gadgets, but if the marketers of new products didn't work hard to make us believe that, where would they make their money? Find out what you need, and see if you can get it second-hand before buying new. Websites like Freecycle are designed for those who have things to give away - clothes, furniture, bikes, you name it. Charity shops are usually full of bargains (books, DVDs, games, clothes and ornaments!), and checking websites like Gumtree or other local listings might give you a few nice, cheap things. They're cheaper, they have history and the less shiny new things we buy, the less the demand, and so less energy is used to make them and less plastics end up on landfills. When you have stuff to give away, too, use similar methods rather than just throwing things away.

6) Cycle/walk - If you have a short trip to make, ask yourself if you really need to use the car. It will cost you a lot of petrol money, it will be a pain trying to find somewhere to park, and you'll be pumping more unpleasant emissions into the air. Not everywhere has good roads for cycling, of course, but if you're lucky enough to live somewhere that does, then do it! Cycling also has the lovely advantage of being really good for you. You could also car-pool - if your neighbour is going into town around the same time as you, ask for a lift. If a co-worker lives near you, agree to take turns in driving to work. If public transport is good in your area, use it - you'll save a lot of money in the long run, too.

7) Check your taps - yes, even something as seemingly innocuous as a dripping tap could be adding loads to your water bill. Different sources claim that you can waste between 120 and 24,000 litres a year from a dripping tap! 1 billion people in developing countries do not have access to clean water. If you're thinking "That doesn't affect me", then you might want to take into consideration that the population is rapidly growing and that over-use of water in one place affects the availability of it elsewhere. The World Water Council website gives a nice overview. Basically, try to limit the amount of water you waste. When you shave, turn off the taps. Keep showers short. Tighten the leaky taps, or get them fixed.

8) Turn your washing machine down - just turning the washing machine down from 40 to 30 degrees can save a LOT of energy! Longer cycles aren't as bad as hot ones - the higher the temperature, the more energy it takes. In Japan, our washing machines only used cold water, and yet they still worked. There are a few other things you can do, too - fill the drum to its full capacity (don't overload), so that you're using the machine less frequently. Use the right amount of detergent, as too little can mean you have to wash everything again and too much can mean an extra rinse. Dryers use a lot of energy, too, so if you can hang your washing out on the line or on a drying rack, do it! Again, your electricity bill will thank you.

9) Don't leave things on standby! - According to a study cited in the Guardian, 8% of our annual electricity bills in the U.K. are from items left on standby. Yes, it can be easier to press the "off" button on the remote rather than the main switch on the T.V., but apparently most items use up to 90% of their normal power when on standby. These items are responsible for up to 4 million tonnes of excess carbon dioxide a year! See the article here.  It doesn't take much energy for you to get up and turn off the T.V. or stereo, unplug things that aren't being used or at least turn them off at the wall. It's quite shocking to see how much one little moment of laziness from us can damage the environment.

Save the world, one veggie enchilada at a time
10) Order vegetarian - as well as a bunch of other reasons (ethical, health, financial), being vegetarian or vegan is good for the environment. You can get an overview even on Wikipedia of the impact of the meat industry - the large amounts of land needed to breed all the animals, for one, plus the strange fact that cows' farts are increasing the methane levels in the environment! There's a pretty effective article here, which claims that livestock farming produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transport combined! Now, I'm not saying that I never eat meat, nor that you should turn vegan or vegetarian - it's a massive step, and something that takes time to adjust to. What I'm saying is - on some occasions, when you have the choice between the healthy salad and the burger, or even between the beef and veggie burger, try the vegetarian option sometimes. If you're making a meal at home, ask yourself if it really needs the extra meat. You might find that you really like vegetarian food, and that cutting down on meat makes you feel healthier, too.




Sorry to put a downer on things, but things are going to get bad if we don't all work together to change them - and spending your life pretending that it isn't happening, claiming to have no time because you're too busy working, will all seem a little silly when the next generation are struggling to find clean water to drink because of our apathy. That might sound a little melodramatic, but we do need to do what we can to help.

These steps are just small changes that you can make without really noticing. When you're ready to do more, of course, there are plenty of volunteer organisations you can join! Philanthropedia has a list of not-for-profits that you can look at, and of course there are the famous ones like Greenpeace. The U.K. government's environmental agency website has some useful information, too. Good luck with going green! 




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Friday, 12 December 2014

How Many Planets Would We Need to Sustain Your Lifestyle? + 5 Tips for Lowering Your Carbon Footprint!

Apparently, if everyone in the world lived like I did, we would need 2.1 planets to support us all.

This is pretty devastating news for someone who cares about the environment and wants to help persuade people to act in "greener" ways and spend more time with nature. Yes, I sign Greenpeace petitions. Yes, I love walking in forests and by rivers. However, it seems that I could be doing a lot more.

The fact is, we've only got one planet - and with a rapidly increasing population, the number of planets we'd need is going to increase, too.

Try the Bioregional One Planet Challenge to see how you fare in terms of your impact on the planet.

What might surprise you is the amount of things you've never considered. For example, if you rent, you might not have a clue whether your home has thick loft insulation or cavity wall insulation. You might never have heard of a "hippo", which is a water-saving device for your toilet. I hadn't, either - so here you go.

The nice thing is that you're given an action plan at the end, to help you start to take steps to reduce your impact on the world. Here are some of my favourite starting points, because they sound pretty easy (although I'd already ticked that I did some of these already). I've expanded on them, too, to give you some ideas:


  • Set your thermostat to 18-21C. OK, that's not hard. If you're still cold, look at whether you could wear another layer of clothing - sitting around the house in your T-shirt and cranking up the heat isn't going to cut it any more! To heat up the house a little more, try something radical like this heater that uses plant pots and tea-light candles.
  • Switch to energy saving light bulbs. Yes, sometimes they take ages to reach the brightness you need, so if you just need to quickly turn on a light to find something, use your phone light or something. However, rumours have been circling the net for a while, saying that energy saving bulbs are toxic... this article clears up how this is a hoax (or so it seems!) and that the amount of mercury in the bulbs is too small to pose any health risk.
  • Take your own carrier bags shopping. Some places now charge 5p per bag, which does encourage people to bring their own. The hardest thing is remembering to bring them. Make sure you always have two plastic bags crumpled up in your handbag or pocket so you won't be caught short! 
  • Before buying something new, consider if you really need it - could you borrow or hire it instead? I love this tip. Imagine you need a ladder to do some quick painting, or a nice dress for a party. Ask your friends (including all those Facebook friends you've got) or try lovely websites like streetbank.com or impossible.com, where you can reach out to strangers in your area for potential favours or free stuff! Also, check local Facebook groups for second-hand or even free items - you'll be surprised at what people give away sometimes.
  • Ordering draught beer from a barrel saves a lot of packaging compared to bottled beer. Yeah! Plus it usually tastes better. Mind you, check out The Food Babe to find out what some of your favourite beers may contain (note: if you like German or Czech beers, you're good to go - they can legally only contain natural ingredients). 
With my 2.1 planets, it's time for me to get my arse in gear and start working on reducing that footprint. However, there are a few issues with this tool - we don't really know how the scores are calculated, plus questions like "If you have a garden, do you use a water butt?" don't give any scope to say "I don't have a garden"  - it's a simple yes/no, so if I don't have a garden and I put "no", do my points get docked? Hmmm.

In the interests of checking its validity, I tried a couple of other calculators:

The WWF Footprint Calculator gave me the exact same score - 2.1! 

If you're in the U.S. you can use the Earth Day Network Footprint Calculator - actually, I recommend this one anyway because you get to make a little avatar and it's quite cute... it's also nice because you can score your answers on a sliding scale and choose how much detail you choose to give (e.g. you can answer about how much meat you eat in general, or you can narrow it down to types of meat). However, this one told me I needed 3.9 planets! Why? What did I do? I can only think my gas/electricity bill estimates didn't add up in the same way.

Of course, we could debate the accuracy of the tests and get into debates about their reliability and validity, but I think it's more important to look at these tests as a bit of fun - fun that can make you feel sh*t about yourself, but still ;) - the point is that the questions might make you think about things you never realised could have an impact on the environment, such as the amount of meat you eat or the jewellery you buy. 

I'll keep you updated on how things go for me under the tag One Planet Challenge! If you're committed to lowering your own impact on the environment, stay tuned and let me know how you're doing, too! 




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Thursday, 11 December 2014

How to Make Your Own Cashew Nut Butter!

Used as a spread, a dip, an addition to smoothies or even as a base for vegan ice-cream or cheese, cashew nut butter is a slightly healthier alternative to peanut butter, as it's lower in unsaturated fat - and great if you have a peanut allergy!




I decided to try making my own. I found a bag of 500g cashew nuts for around £3 in Tesco and threw them into my blender, hoping for the best...



Thursday, 4 December 2014

Home-made Pizza - Spelt and Chickpea Flour Bases!

I made two delicious pizzas (not all for myself!) the other day - one with a spelt flour crust, one with chickpea flour. Both were very tasty, and I wanted to share my recipes with you - after all, if you can make delicious pizza at home, why waste money ordering in take-out pizza that's loaded with extra who-knows-what?

Spelt flour is an ancient grain (some say it's been harvested for 9000 years). It's a whole-food - unlike with bread wheat, where  vital nutritional bran and germ are usually removed during milling.   However this does not mean that spelt makes a heavy loaf. Spelt is not gluten-free, but is thought to be OK for people with a slight gluten intolerance due to the way that it's produced. 

Chickpea flour is made of ground-up chickpeas, although the one I buy from Holland and Barrett also contains some yellow lentils. It's also known as gram flour, garbanzo bean flour or besan, and is a common addition to Burmese, Moroccan and Indian dishes to name a few. It's gluten free, and has relatively more protein than other flours.

To make your own pizza dough (for 2 big pizzas), all you need is:

Monday, 1 December 2014

Are Your Beliefs About Talent and Skill Holding You Back? The Difference Between Fixed and Growth Mindsets

My mother has lived in Wales for nearly 40 years. Despite 85% of the local population speaking
Naturally talented, or the result of hours of practice?
Welsh as their first language, she still can't hold up much of a conversation in the language (sorry Mum!). While she partly blames this on my refusal to speak Welsh to my “English mummy” during childhood, another reason that she likes to give for her lack of linguistic prowess is - “well, I was never very good at French at school”.

I've heard things like this from all kinds of people; “Oh, I can't do that – I'm hopeless at writing essays”, “Well, I can't sing”, “I'm really bad at sports.”

These statements are given with the same casual matter-of-factness as if we were telling each other about our nationality or eye colour. Yet we surely know plenty of people who have taken up a language, hobby or job and picked it up pretty well, and we all know that nobody comes out of the womb able to play classical music on the piano or speak ten languages.

Let me ask you this: have you ever stopped yourself from doing something because you didn't think you could do it? This might mean you gave up at the first hurdle, or that you didn't even start.

Sometimes, we expect to get things right the first time, and when we try and don't succeed we get frustrated and give up. I've certainly tried new things, like a new exercise class or trying to understand a complicated piece of information, and given up as soon as things got tough, thinking "well, there's something I'm no good at!". Underneath this kind of thinking is an assumption that if we can't get things right at the beginning, we must not be made for that activity - so we stop, or don't even try.

This isn't true of everybody - there are some who will keep on trying. The psychologist Carol Dweck argues that there are two types of mindset - the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset. The mindset that you have could determine how you behave towards challenges and even predict how happy you are.