Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Making Your Own Honey-Roasted Peanut Butter

Mmm, peanut butter - great for spreading on your toast, bagels or crumpets, throwing into cake recipes,
Find out how to make this below! Mmmm
even just spooning out of the jar when you're feeling a bit naughty (come on, haven't you?). It can also be an interesting addition to curries and soups. Whatever you do with your PB (we won't judge you), you may be wondering what's in the jar. I've broken down the ingredients in just 3 of the easily available brands from my town.

Sun-Pat Smooth Peanut Spread - boasting 95% peanuts, it turns out that the other 5% is made up of: stabiliser (E471), cane sugar, peanut oil and sea salt.

Slightly bad news for vegans or Muslims - E471 is mainly produced from vegetable oils, although animal fats may be present. There is a chance of pork fat also being present; so E471 is best avoiding when you can't know for sure that it is entirely from from vegetable oil. There's sugar, which may or may not really need to be in there, but the good news is there's no palm oil!

Marks and Spencers' Crunchy Peanut Butter - only 91% peanuts in this one, with the rest being from sunflower oil, palm oil, cane sugar and sea salt.

You may remember that palm oil is best avoided as it causes massive environment destruction and human rights abuses, so I wasn't too thrilled when I noticed this!

Tesco Value Crunchy Peanut Butter, by far the most delicious (I think) and cheapest, contains only 87% peanuts, sunflower oil, dextrose, vegetable oil and salt.

Dextrose is another name for glucose, and is a type of sweetener made from plant starch. Vegetable oil could also be palm oil, as there's no requirement to label palm oil as such.

Of course, there are some brands of peanut butter that contain 99% or more peanuts, which you can find pretty easily online (for example, Holland and Barrett stocks Meridian peanut butter, which is £5.99 for a 1000g tub), but I decided to test out my new food processor and make my own!

What you need:
Peanuts (ideally unsalted, in their skins)
A drizzle of honey
Optional - a splash of peanut (groundnut) oil

Step 1: Spread the peanuts onto a baking tray. DON'T use foil, as I did, because the peanuts will stick to it
and take ages to remove! Drizzle some honey on them and place under a grill at around 120C for 10-15 minutes.

2: Remove and let cool for 5 miutes.

3. Throw into the food processor and switch it on! As with Cashew nut butter, the trick is to leave the food processor on for a minute or so, turn it off, scoop the peanuts back onto the blades and keep going. It will seem to take ages but eventually your mixture will start to become a little less like powder and more like butter. 

4. If you're struggling, add a splash of peanut oil. This will make the blending process go a little more smoothly.

5. Pour into a cleaned out jar and enjoy! This particular peanut butter was smooth but a little gritty, which I came to really like. If you're struggling to spread it, you can add a little more oil or honey.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Are you Getting Enough Nature?

Last year, I spent a little time helping out some lovely folks at Project Wild Thing. David Bond, director of the documentary, was worried that his children would rather sit in front of their screens than go outside. Realising that the beautiful scenes outside their homes had to compete with the shiny advertising for Angry Birds, he set himself up as the Marketing Directing for Nature.

I'd strongly recommend checking out the film if you can, and looking at their website:

Getting outside can be tough, and it's especially off-putting when you're faced with grey days and rain (as we so often are in the UK). With late mornings and early evenings, there isn't a lot of daylight to catch - and if you're at work during those hours, it's even harder. Still, it might turn out that getting outside a little more could be the secret ingredient to your happiness.

Here are some facts that might get you thinking. Children who regularly play outdoors have a stronger immune system, lower levels of stress, better imagination and creativity, higher self-esteem and respect for others, better vision and motor function, and better social bonds.

On the other hand, children who have 2 or more hours of daily "screen time" are at a higher risk of obesity, have less regular sleep patterns, delayed language acquisition, more hyperactivity and attention problems, lower levels of creativity and more trouble forming social bonds. Yet 64% of babies and toddlers are, on average, watching 2+ hours of TV a day. If you think I'm just making things up, my sources are the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the National Centre for Physical Development and Outdoor Play.

It isn't just children who are affected by too much screen time and not enough green time. Adults who don't spend enough time outdoors are just as likely to be overweight, irritable, depressed and anxious, and those who spend a lot of time outdoors are generally happier and healthier. Sometimes you don't even have to be outside - even having a view of green space from your office can make you more productive than workers with a city view or no view at all! The book Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality is full of information about studies looking into the relationship between humans and nature.

What is it that boosts our well-being? It might be that fuzzy feeling you get when you look at a beautiful scene, which can be calming or exhilarating. It might be the feeling of being part of something greater and wonderful; a feeling you don't get in an office cubicle or your apartment. It might be a chemical reaction brought on by the fresh air or something in the soil. Whatever it is, I know I certainly feel better when I spend some time outside. I get sick less often, I feel calmer and better able to face life's stresses, and it reminds me that - in the grand scheme of things - any little problems I have are fleeting. We're all part of something much bigger, and those hills have been there for thousands of years and will continue to stand there long after any of us.

So, do you think you get enough nature? What barriers prevent you from it? Where are your favourite green spaces?

Friday, 1 July 2016

Are You Addicted to Pleasing Everyone? Learning To Say No...

OK, it's time for me to confess something to you. I have an addiction. No, it's not crack, it's not gambling and it's not caffeine (well, OK, maybe a little bit of caffeine addiction is going on)... it's saying "yes" to too many things. 

Have you read "Yes Man"? It's a lovely idea, and I'm all for saying yes to more exciting opportunities. Most of us could probably do with more adventure in our lives. The problem is that many of us say no to the good things, and yes to the bad things. If you say "yes" to everything that comes your way, you might have the time of your life, fall in love or land your dream job. But, of course, there are times when saying "yes" could lead to trouble.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Self-esteem versus Self-Compassion: Love Yourself Right!

When you miss out on a job prospect or the man of your dreams turns you down, how do you react? Do you let yourself feel defeated, beat yourself up with thoughts like "you're not good enough, anyway"; or do you accept the situation, give yourself a hug, and move on? Or, perhaps, do you feel angry - how dare they not recognise how amazing you are?! There's a difference between self-esteem, which we've all heard of, and self-compassion - which isn't as well-known.

You may think that having high self-esteem is always a good thing. It's the fuel that makes you get out of bed and ready to kick some ass. In the 80's, America was swept by the self-esteem movement - the idea that, if kids had high self-esteem, they could face life's challenges and rise to any occasion. You might have heard of stories where teachers were forbidden from marking papers with crosses, to avoid the risk of damaging a child's self-esteem. What actually happened, some argue, was the production of a generation of self-entitled brats with massive, unfounded egos - who couldn't handle the merest hint of criticism. There's a great article about it (and Jersey Shore) here.

In the world of Psychology, some researchers are arguing that the downsides of having high self-esteem is a great deal of narcissism and lack of empathy for others. Our generation get accused of thinking we're special and wonderful all the time, but it's clearer to see in others. We probably all know someone who poses for countless selfies, who obsesses over their clothes and make-up, and who seem to only talk about themselves. Despite having high "self-esteem", those people are often the most sensitive when it comes to criticism, too - their ego may be big, but it's fragile.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

5 Mindfulness Tips for Busy People

Mindfulness, an ancient idea rooted in Buddhism but based on a very simple concept - stop, perceive, feel.

These days, our brains take in so much more than our ancestors' ever did- all the information and adverts

Finding inner peace at work can be tricky...
can make us feel like our brains are going to explode. Rates of depression and anxiety are increasing, and many believe it's because we just can't deal with the "modern world".

Thanks to this, more and more people are discovering mindfulness and meditation. The results are apparently amazing in every circle - less stress, a clearer head, better emotional control, reduced anxiety and depression.

But how does mindfulness fit into a world that's so fast and demanding? If you looked up mindfulness and thought "Well, I don't have time for that!" then read on. You don't have to dress in robes and spend two hours on a mountain, chanting; there are a few simple ways that you can incorporate mindfulness into your every life, without compromising your time.

Save your future self from melt-down (and all those stress-related diseases) by taking time out from your thoughts and focusing on the here and now.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

How to Cut Your Internet Argument Addiction

You know how it goes. You're idly flicking through your news feed, or you scroll to the "comments" section at the bottom of a news article. Some of the comments are nice and innocent enough, some make valid points; but there's somebody who has said something so ignorant, so disgusting, that you feel your blood start to boil. Perhaps their comment has bypassed most peoples' attention, or perhaps there is already a vicious battle going on by the time you stumble across it. There are misinformed, ridiculous comments being made - and you know exactly what to say to them. You might even have a few facts to back yourself up. You click "comment" and find that you might even need to register with this website in order to have your say...

STOP right there! Before you get your virtual knickers in a twist, take a deep breath and think about what you're about to do. How often in a heated, online discussion do you see somebody saying "Wow, I really see your point. Thank you for putting it that way!" (without sarcasm) and politely shaking hands with everybody, thanking them for the intellectual exercise?