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 or, 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:

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Burmese Tart-sweet Chili Garlic Sauce

Tart-sweet chili garlic sauce - mmm! If you like a kick of spice, this little bad-boy a perfect dip, a seasoning on any dish, an awesome toast topping (works well with hummus or cheese) or even just to mix with rice for a very low-key, easy meal.

Before I launch into how you can make this delicious sauce (which I painstakingly tried to catch in the sunlight to make it look pretty), I want to shamelessly plug the book that the recipe is from:

I bought it from Amazon a few months ago after developing an obsession with Burmese food. My husband and I first tried Burmese food on the Thailand-Burma border on our honeymoon, and we haven't looked back. It's hard to explain just how delicious it is until you try it, so... try it! I'll be sure to post more recipes from Burma: Rivers of Flavour as time goes on, as I can't get enough. Burmese food is a little spicy, a little tart, salty and sweet (all at the same time) and once you have your basic ingredients, it's easy to make most of the recipes. The pictures and stories of Burma that sprawl across the book are enchanting, and make me wish that I'd spent more than one (rainy) hour in the country itself.

Anyway, to make this sauce and never have to buy sweet chili sauce again, you'll need:

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Lemon Basil Cashew "Cheese" for Vegans (or those who want to cut back on dairy)

As much as I love cheese, I can't deny that it isn't always the healthiest thing (especially when I buy the cheap stuff as, let's face
it, it's likely to be processed). I also like to be as vegan as possible for the sake of all the cows who are pumped full of antibiotics and live hooked up to milking machines. But maybe you can enjoy this vegan version of cheese in its own right.

I've tried fake cheese before. It tasted disgusting. You might like it, and it might just have been the brand I picked up ("Sheese"), but frankly it tasted like a lump of lard and nothing like cheese whatsoever. So, when I found this recipe for vegan cheese on OhSheGlows, I was dubious.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Coconut Lime Pasta Soup - an easy way to use left-overs!

When it's nearly time to go shopping, and you just have that last little piece of courgette or half a tomato to get rid of, you mind find yourself wondering just what to make with them. If you have some pasta (or noodles), a few spices and a lime lying around, you can make what I refer to as "sexy soup" - it's delicious and really easy to make!

The ingredients for this can depend entirely on what you've got lying around.

The essentials (to serve 2):
A lime

Saturday, 1 November 2014

How to make vegetarian, home-made Pasta Bake in 20 minutes!

Back when I started cooking, as a student who could barely boil rice, I used to stock up on those expensive jars of pasta bake and follow their instructions. For some reason, as well as costing £1-2 a jar, their recipes required waiting for a good hour before the pasta was ready.

I've found a very easy way to throw together a delicious pasta meal without buying any pasta bakes or sauces. Well... kinda. All you need is pasta, vegetables, and a box of passata - which is a sauce made from pure tomatoes (usually), sieved and strained. You can usually find it near other tomato products in the supermarket. as well as supposedly being of better quality than the tomatoes in tomato sauce, there are usually no additives and it's a lot cheaper! A carton is usually around 40p and lasts a while. 

To make the pasta bake pictured here (serves 4), I used:
1 packet of spinach and mozzarella tortellini from Aldi (yes, not the healthiest thing, I know...) - you can use any pasta you want!
1/2 an onion
2 cloves of garlic
A handful of basil leaves 
1/2 a can of sweetcorn
A litttle (let's say 1/4 each) red pepper, yellow pepper, courgette and leek
1/2 a bag of spinach
1 block of mozzarella
200ml of passata

1. Preheat your oven to 150C. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add chopped onion and garlic. Stir for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan to the boil with the pasta inside (around 2 inches above the pasta). Cook according to the packet instructions - usually between 5-15 minutes.

2. Add all other vegetables except basil leaves and spinach. Stir for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the spinach. Spinach is massive and will cover everything for a few minutes, but keep stirring and the heat and moisture will shrink it down into tiny bits. 

4. Add the passata to the pan and stir everything together.

5. Drain the water from the pasta once it's ready. Pour the pasta into a baking dish (e.g. a casserole dish, deep baking tray etc) then cover it with the mixture from the frying pan. Stir around but be careful of splashing everything onto the counter!

6. Add slices of mozzarella to the top of the pasta bake. Chop up your basil leaves and scatter on the top. 

7. Place in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.

Woo! There you go. A nice, warming and filling dish for those colder days!  

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Monday, 27 October 2014

What is "Flow"? The beauty of being lost in the moment...

Have you ever been so caught up in the moment that you lost all track of time?

It might have happened while you were doing something unpleasant or boring, but the chances are that you were in the middle of something that you found engrossing and enjoyable - perhaps painting, listening to music, walking, writing or making something.

The idea of Flow was proposed by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, which I'm told is pronounced "chick-sent-me-high", when he observed artists getting lost in their work.

The phenomenon has existed for much longer, for certain - people often talk about being "in the zone", and it's bound to have happened to everybody at least once - even if you haven't experienced this state since you were a child.

According to researchers, a true "flow" state has six components:

1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Tangy Rhubarb Sauce - perfect with salmon!

Rhubarb is one of those things that normally goes with dessert - rhubarb and custard, rhubarb crumble, rhubarb cheesecake (yum), but when I bought a bunch from my local market I wanted to find out whether I could use it as a savoury dish. 

Rhubarb is thought to have many health benefits - its high levels of Vitamin K, for example, being an important contributor to brain health and can help prevent Alzheimer's, as well as being rich in calcium (good for the bones) and being very low in calories! (Read more here

I did a quick search of the Internet, browsed through a few savoury rhubarb recipes, and decided to try making a simple sauce and spooning it over salmon*, courtesy of Coffee and Quinoa (although she makes it look much prettier that I did!). 

This sauce is very, very easy to make. You'll need:

2 sticks of rhubarb

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Coconut & Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

Vegetables, noodles, and a sweet, coconut and sweet potato soup come together to make a great, filling meal with few ingredients. It's a little bit Thai, especially if you choose to add certain ingredients!

You'll need (serves 3-4):
1 large sweet potato
1 can of coconut milk

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Just 10 Days of a Mediterranean Diet Can Improve Your Mood!

Although Coca-Cola might try convincing you that buying their product will bring happiness, people generally
seem aware that too much processed food is bad for you. But it isn't just your body that can suffer from a bad diet - it's your brain. While plenty of research suggests that certain chemicals and eating patterns can negatively affect your mood there are very few actual control trials that look at the effect of diet on mood and brain power.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Great Books - The New Good Life by John Robbins

How do you define the good life? This is the question that John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America and son of a very successful ice-cream salesman (yes, Mr Robbins, as in Baskin-Robbins), asks in The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less. Growing up surrounded by wealth (and ice-cream), John was more inspired by Henry David Thoreau's ideas of being nearer to the earth than his father's ambitions for him to take over the family business. At 21 years old, John walked away from what could have been his dairy destiny and cut himself off from his father's money.

Paying for his studies with part-time jobs and poker games, John found a pretty sizable plot of land on Salt Spring Island, off the coast of British Colombia, for only $2000 (this was in 1969, mind you). Here, he and his wife lived in a tiny one-room log cabin for ten years, growing most of their own food, owning only a single set of clothes, spending no more than $500 a year (doubling when their son, Ocean, was born) and feeling, as he puts it, "alive in a way I never had before". They made enough money from teaching yoga and hosting retreats to save around $1000 a year. While many people may shudder to think of this kind of life, they never felt poor - in fact, John looks back on those years as the richest of his life.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Home-made Healthy Butterfinger Bars!

A few weeks ago, my parents-in-law brought us a stash of Butterfinger bars from the States. If you haven't tried them, they're basically peanut butter brittle coated in chocolate and they're delicious. What isn't so good is the list of ingredients on the back....

Corn Syrup, Sugar, Ground Roasted Peanuts, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Cocoa, Molasses, and Less than 1% of Whey, Confectioner's Corn Flakes, Nonfat Milk, Salt, Lactic Acid Esters, Soy Lecithin, Soybean Oil, Cornstarch, Artificial Flavours, Citric Acid (Added to Preserve Freshness) E110, E129/ Yellow 5, Red 40.

Mmmm! Here's a link to one of many articles on the dangers of corn syrup, for one thing. I try to operate by the rule that, if the list of ingredients sound like the inside of a chemical lab rather than your grandmother's pantry, it's best to avoid. 

So, I decided to find out whether I could make my own, healthy versions at home, and found this recipe at Detoxinista. Just to test it out for you, and to make the recipe a little easier to follow, I've attempted this a couple of times and I think I've got it down to an art. OK, so they're covered in chocolate rather than coated, but they're so good... and they only require 4 ingredients!


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Czech Potato Soup - Bramboračka

You may not know this, but I lived in Prague for just shy of two years, working as an English teacher. I only left last year, and have visited again once since then. The Czech Republic is a beautiful country, and Prague is an amazing city where you'll have to work hard to find a bad (or expensive) meal! Plus, their beer is wonderful...'s a quick link to my travel blog, with some Czech-based posts.

The Czech wouldn't dream of having lunch without a soup starter, and throughout the week restaurants offer lunchtime specials - usually soup and a main dish for the equivalent of £3-4. As ridiculously filling as these meals are, they're a great introduction to Czech cuisine, and if you look in the right places you can find some great meals. Yes, a great many of them only offer "hovězí vývar" - a watery beef broth that doesn't do much for the taste-buds - but if you can get your hands on bramboračka, or potato soup, give it a try.

After satisfying my craving for it on my last visit to Prague, I started to wonder how to actually make it myself. I was delighted to find that it's easy to make, and due to its simple ingredients it's a good way to get some vegetables into your system!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Art of Savouring and Mindful Eating

How often do you absent-mindedly shovel nuts, crisps or other snacks into your mouth while your focus is on something else, like the TV or the day's events? Do you ever reach the end of the day and realise that you "accidentally" ate far more than you intended to?

In the first Mindfulness class that I attended, each of us were given a raisin and asked to focus on it; the feel
 of the raisin in our hand, the ridges we could feel when we ran our finger over it, its squishiness between our fingers. Then, we brought it up to our noses and focused on the smell, before slowly popping it on our tongues. We took a moment to appreciate the gentle sweetness on the tip of our tongues, and noticed the texture of its ridges inside our mouths. Finally, slowly, we bit into it, focusing on the flavours and textures, on how our teeth and tongues knew just what to do, before allowing ourselves to swallow it.

Approaching food with the "raisin mind" might seem like teasing yourself when you just want to devour the thing, but the practice exists to draw our attention to things that we would not normally notice and to bring our awareness to physical sensations, as mindfulness often does. As well as making the raisin taste a hundred times better, it made me appreciate it so much more than I normally would have.

You don't have to practice mindfulness to pay attention to what you eat. When we don't fully notice what we're eating, we're more likely to eat junk food, gain weight (as we don't remember what we've eaten) and less likely to appreciate not only food, but life. Stopping and savouring positive experiences increases our enjoyment of life and can reduce the number of negative emotions we feel (Hurley & Kwon, 2012).

Psychologically speaking, "savouring" (Bryant & Veroff, 2007) involves making the most of positive experiences. This can mean being more "present" while good things are happening, such as focusing on a beautiful piece of music, sipping a cup of coffee slowly while appreciating its aroma, or taking in a sunset. It can also involve savouring precious memories of the past, through visualising them or using photographs or stories to relive them.

As part of our Masters in Applied Positive Psychology course, we had to try a few "positive interventions" on ourselves and see whether they made us feel happier, more satisfied with life or enhanced our sense of meaning. I decided to try savouring, so I made a point of walking to work while focusing on the flowers and tress that I saw and listening to the birds, rather than my usual practice of over-thinking possible future scenarios and replaying memories. Savouring has a lot in common with mindfulness; it's about being present in the moment, about paying attention to the input from your sensory organs, rather than letting thoughts rule you and grey your experience or experiencing life on auto-pilot.

I have to admit that I often eat while watching TV (in my defense, we're talking quality TV like Doctor Who, Arrow or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), which can take a lot of the experience away from the food itself. That's why I made a concerted effort to eat at least one meal per week at the table with no distractions, honing in my focus onto the smell, the texture, the flavours, and appreciating how each individual ingredient had found its way into my kitchen somehow.

Dalen et al. (2010) found that "mindful eating" helped with weight-loss, self control and reduced negative emotions. It makes sense - if you are truly mindful of what you consume, you reduce the chance of "secret eating" - where you shovel food into your mouth without it even registering consciously - and feeling more in control of your life will reduce those feelings of guilt that we so often get when we realise we just ate another donut (but someone brought them into work and left them in the office, damnit!). I even started to realise that I didn't like some of the things I was eating, but rather was eating them due to habit.

So, here are some tips for increasing your awareness and enjoyment of what you eat:

  • Keep a food diary and show it to a friend (or your online community) so that you are accountable for what you eat.
  • Try, with at least one item of food or drink a day, to inhale the smell, to slowly place it on your tongue and focus on the texture and the flavours that reach your mouth, to feel it travelling down into your belly. If you can touch the food - e.g. a raisin, not so much soup - focus on the feel of it against your fingers, too.
  • Take a moment to think about the origins of your food - think of every ingredient that was used, where it came from, and all the people who had to work together to grow, harvest and transport that food to the shop where you purchased it, and mentally thank each individual person for contributing to your meal. Gratitude also contributes to our well-being and might increase your sense of connectedness to the world and the people around you.

    Of course, savouring isn't just about food - it's something you can do for any pleasant experience; however, I find that eating is something we all enjoy, and so is an easy one to start with! References:

Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A New Model Of Positive Experience. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Dalen, J., Smith, B. W., Shelley, B. M., Sloan, A. L., Leahigh, L., & Begay, D. (2010). Pilot Study: Mindful Eating And Living (MEAL): Weight, Eating Behavior, And Psychological Outcomes Associated With A Mindfulness-Based Intervention For People With Obesity. Complementary Therapies In Medicine, 18(6), 260-264.

Hurley, D. B., & Kwon, P. (2012). Results Of A Study To Increase Savoring The Moment: Differential Impact On Positive And Negative Outcomes. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 13(4), 579-588.
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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Recipe - Beetroot and Pepper Salad

Fancy a healthy, easy salad for lunch? This quick creation does ideally require a food processor, but it's a refreshing way to start your day (or any meal) - juicy, crunchy beet(root), healthy greens and a bit of yellow pepper for added flavour (and, OK, they made it look better). 

To make the beetroot mixture (this serves 2):

2 tbsp olive oil
Two beets/beetroots (yes, you can use packaged/pickled ones if you wish!)
The juice of a whole lemon
A handful of parsley
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1. Cut the roots off the beets - you can actually cook and eat these, too, so save them for later. Peel the beets - this can be very messy, of course! Cut them into cubes and throw into a food processor with the other ingredients. Blend.

2. Wash your messy red hands. Slice up some lettuce, adding any other leafy greens of your choice - rocket, mizuna, spinach, whatever you've got - plus some nice slices of pepper. Put in a bowl and scoop on the beet mix!

Optional: Take pretty pictures of it in the sun before eating! Those are some of my pak choi growing in the background... 

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

5 Reasons to Simplify Your Life

One of my philosophies here is "live simply" - easy words to say, but what do they mean? And why would you want to live a simpler lifestyle?

In a nutshell, living simply involves cutting away the crap, de-cluttering, and living a more peaceful, tidy lifestyle. It isn't about throwing away so much of your stuff that you live in a plain white room, bored out of your mind - it's about realising that you could probably do without half the things that take up your time and get in your way when you're trying to find that important piece of paper. It's about organising and prioritising - which is why the rest of the article will be in nice, numbered points rather than a wall of text!

1. It will make life much less stressful.

When you have clutter, you have stress. A chaotic house reflects a chaotic mind. I know that when I look at a messy room I find it harder to concentrate on working. This goes not just for items but for background noise and tasks. Who can focus when they have a million things going on?

When you de-clutter your life, you start to find time for yourself; time where you can simply "be", reflect and find peace. You'll also be far more productive without all those distractions. Not to mention when you're trying to find something and you end up wading through rooms full of junk - how much easier would it be if you knew where everything was, and all of it was stuff that you needed and wanted in your home?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

How You Can be Happy AND Environmentally-Friendly...

Hello there, and sorry for the long, long gap between updates! I'll explain later.

So, even though we all know that we should be doing more for the environment, few of us truly live our lives
in a way that is "green". We might recycle every now and again, but only before jumping into a car to pop down to the shops (to buy coffee that was grown halfway around the world). Why, when we know it's a good thing to do, do so many of us struggle with environmentally-friendly behaviours?

Brown and Kasser (2005) suggest that the reason so few of us are committed to turning to a green lifestyle is that it is often framed as a sacrifice; the idea that we would have to give up a core part of what makes us happy in order to help the environment. Given the choice between our own happiness and the thought of a healthy planet, most of us are likely to satisfy our immediate needs – thoughts of the environment, and our impact on future generations, seem too far off to truly contemplate.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Eating right, moving and being in nature - my new project

I haven't written for a long time, but I wanted to let you know what's been going on.

I've been working on a new project with a friend from my Masters course. Together, we realised that we share a passion for eating healthily (that means no packaged/processed food, a lot of fruit and vegetables, and a balanced diet), looking after the environment and spending time in nature. These things are vital for our well-being on an individual and a global level - it's all well and good achieving your goals and dreams, but what about making sure that the planet is still going to be in a fit state for you to live out those dreams in a few years down the line?

Christina and I have created Greenjoy Living - a blog full of healthy recipes, advice, and news on living a healthy, happy, sustainable life. You can visit the new website here:

Greenjoy Living

I'm not stopping this blog - just taking a little time to work on the other project for now! I'd love it if you went over and had a look! 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

10 Ways to Save Money While Travelling

People often assume that travelling costs a lot of money, but it doesn't have to. Usually, the cheaper ways you find to explore new places, the more interesting your time there will be.
Vang Vieng, Laos

During July and August, my husband and I honeymooned around Thailand, Viet Nam and Laos on a budget of £12 a day. OK, so we went over that a little - but we didn't break the bank. I've been asked how we could afford to spend seven weeks in Asia, so I thought I'd share with you some of our techniques (and some great websites that you might not have heard about).

1. Travel to cheap countries. It might sound obvious, but there's no way we could have spent so little per day if we had been in Australia, Finland or Japan. The beauty of Thailand is that you can get a meal for less than £1, and a 20-minute taxi ride would rarely reach £2. Research countries that have a low cost of living, but that still have things that you want to see and do.

2. Buy a phone/SIM card IN the country. A lot of people use roaming charges when they take their phone to a new country. This can be extortionate (if your phone even works there) and is one of the reasons travellers spend a lot of money. Wait until you're in the country, and pick up a SIM card - you can often buy them at the airport. I found a very basic phone in Thailand for around £8, and their call/text charges are really low. That way, if you need to call your hotel to find out where it is, you won't end up paying more than the nightly rate for the phone call.