Monday, 9 December 2013

Natural Beauty, Christmas and Handmade Delights ...

So here I am dear readers, back again after a week instead of a day. There is always something going on around here that keeps me from blogging but I must resist and focus, or so I keep telling myself.

First things first ... the Christmas tree is finally in place. I usually have it in front of the window but due to a change around of furniture in the lounge it has a new home. Miss J and Mr D put it up and Miss G helped decorate it as well. I played the supervisory role which we all know is the most important role of all!

There are small trees in each of the bedrooms as well as a little one on my kitchen window sill. I do love to see the house decorated for Christmas ...

A blog wouldn't be the same without a picture of Merlin so here he is getting ready for a little nap ...

That cat will sleep anywhere!

I have made a few hats for Christmas presents and so far have one slouchy beanie for my sister and a little hat for a friends baby girl.

I love it so much that I'm making myself one as well ..

I love this cute little daisy hat so much ... wish it would fit me!

Another knitted gift for my sister. I used bamboo wool for the very first time for this neckwarmer and it is so soft and snuggly.

I have also received some gorgeous and very generous swap parcels via Instagram over the past few weeks.

All of this brings me on to a subject very close to my heart ... natural beauty.

As a teenager growing up in Africa I became aware of natural beauty products. I have never been a fan of putting chemicals into or onto my body. I used fresh avocado as a face mask as well as oatmeal and honey. I would massage olive oil into my hair and leave it on overnight before washing off the following morning. The fist ever book I bought on the subject of beauty was this one ...

Whilst not strictly a book about natural beauty it did have some good tips and a few recipes to make lotions and potions which I duly did. So my quest into natural beauty products began. I do use shop bought products as well but lately I am more inclined to just make my own and my promise to myself for the coming year is to make as many as is possible.

A book I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone even slightly interested in natural beauty would be this book ...

This book is a goldmine of information and covers topics such as Save your Skin, Natural Hair Care, Natural Cures for Common Ailments as well as getting your house in order, organic clothing and laundry products to name but a few. There is a very good directory at the end of the book for further information on products and where to shop etc.

Liz Earle is a well known name in the natural beauty circle. Her range of products are organic and contain mainly natural ingredients. This book is the one stop book on how to look after your skin across the various stages of our lives. You can buy Liz Earle products online or in her shop on the Isle of Wight. I can recommend her Hot Cloth Cleanser 100% and it leaves your skin feeling supersoft.

For a body moisturiser I use coconut oil. I buy it in a kilo tub and it costs me about £10 including postage on eBay. It is 100% pure organic cold pressed oil and it lasts FOREVER. I melt a little down and pour it into a smaller container and then just use my finger tips to gets some out when I need it. I rub it between my hands and then rub it into my skin. You don't need much and it doesn't leave the skin oily if you use a small amount.
Do look around for this product as it can be pricey in shops dear reader! I spotted a jar in Holland & Barrett for £16.99.
 Another good product for the body is sweet almond oil. I also buy this on eBay and pay around £10 for a litre including postage. This can be used on the body, in the bath and as a basis for making other beauty products such as hand cream, face cream etc.

I use an aloe vera toothepaste as I prefer mine without fluoride. I get mine at Holland & Barrett although there are other shops that stock this. One might be forgiven for thinking it tastes vile but it really does not. My children wouldn't use it otherwise!

I use a cheap moisturiser from Superdrug when I haven't made any of my own. I use their Vitamin E range which isn't tested on animals. I also use their Hot Cloth Cleanser which in my opinion is just as good as the Liz Earle one and at £4.99, a mere fraction of the cost.

I sometimes use Neal's Yard Remedies but that is usually when I spot a product free with a magazine that tends to do this once a year. Having said that, I do use their Lavender Sunscreen which is very good but takes forever to rub in. I use Biosen Pump Spray deodorant as I prefer my arm pits  aluminum free and I use an aromatherapy perfume stick which I also buy from eBay. For my hair care I use a solid shampoo from Lush and their Veganese conditioner.

Many skin care products contain irritants such as strong perfumes and colours. There are also so many products out there these days such as day cream, night cream , eye serum, neck serum and they all do pretty much the same thing. Moisturiser is moisturiser! 

So, is your bathroom cabinet bulging with toxins?

Formaldehyde - when combined with water this is a toxic gas which is used in disinfectants and germicides and is used as a preservative in deodorants, shampoos, liquid soaps and nail varnish. It is a suspected human carcinogen and has caused lung cancer in rats. It can damage DNA, irritate the eyes, respiratory tract and mucous membrane and may cause headaches and asthma. It is banned in Japan and Sweden.

Phthalates - this is a family of plasicisers that have been banned in the EU from being used in plastic toys but is still used in hairsprays, top-selling perfumes and nail varnishes. It can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled as fumes and ingested from contam Fragrances areinated food or breastfeeding.

Parabens - this can be found in some toothpastes, moisturisers and deodorant and are used as a preservative. Research has shown that parabens used in antiperspirants can cause breast cancer and oestrogen-type chemicals have also been linked to testicular cancer and a reduction in sperm count.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate - SLS is one of the major ingredients in nearly every shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath and shampoo. It is a known skin irritant which can stop hair growth, cause cataracts in adults, damage children's eye development and cause urinary tract infections.

Propylene Glycol - is a cosmetic form of mineral oil (crude oil) used in anti freeze! Workers handling it wear protective clothing and are told to avoid skin contact but this is a major ingredient in most moisurisers, skin creams, baby wipes and sun screens. It's used because it gives the glide factor in body lotions and is cheap. Lanolin and collagen also clog the pores and cause skin to age quicker than if nothing were used.

Talc - this is a recognised carcinogen and has been linked to an increase in ovarian cancer and general urinary tract disorder. Do not dust this on your baby's bottom!!!

Parfum - a typical cosmetic can contain up to 100 chemicals in the perfume alone! Most of these are synthetic and derived from petroleum. Fragrances are linked to allergies and breathing problems.

Aluminum - is found in most deodorants and has been linked to Alzheimer's. Use one without aluminum.

These are just some of the nasties that are going onto and into our bodies and doing untold damage. 

There alternatives out there. Read the labels, google the ingredients. You don't need to spend a fortune on replacements - most natural products are much, much cheaper than what you are buying now. Also, try to buy products that are not tested on animals. Most have a symbol on the back of the jar or box.

In my next blog post I will give you a few simple recipes that you can whip up in your kitchen to use on your face and body. Hopefully, the will inspire you to have a go and try some for yourself.

Until then dear readers, I will leave you with this ...

Monday, 2 December 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ...

Where oh where did November go dear readers? One minute it was October and the next thing I know it's December and I'm starting to think about Christmas ...

This Christmas will be my first one without either of my parents being here and that will take some getting used to. After my mom passed away two years ago my focus was on my dad but since he passed away in the summer I have had to get used to being parentless and that is difficult no matter what age you are.

But on a more cheerful note, November has seen me cooking and baking my way through the month and starting to prepare for Christmas. I don't celebrate the religious aspect of the season as I am not of the Christian faith although my husband is. I see it as a time to help other people who may be less fortunate than myself although I do that all year round anyway.

This year I have started to donate food to my local Food Bank and a bag full of groceries was deposited there this afternoon. I have also wrapped up some children's presents to be dropped off at a local church which go to a local children's charity and I have done my usual boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Miss G has brought a letter home from school asking for donations for the local Food Bank as well so I will be sending her in with a few items next Monday. I have decided to make this an ongoing thing and just add a few items to my weekly shop and when I have built up a stash I will drop it off. I feel that no matter how little some of us think we have there are so, so many people that have even less and it is in my nature to help people even if it's in a tiny way.

A few weeks ago I baked this gorgeous chocolate cake with little oreo's on top. I will add the recipe in a later blog.

The recipe was adapted from a Primrose Bakery one and I am told it was delicious but I don't like chocolate cake and it's not vegan either so none for me dear reader!

I spotted this magazine in Tesco and had to buy it as it's a first on the vegan front.


I also made a delicious vegan sausage roll using a sheet of ready rolled puff pastry and a vegan sausage mix.

The recipe for this will also follow at a later date.

A little jaunt into town a few weeks ago brought about another trip to the new library in Birmingham which was visited by the Duke of Cambridge last Friday. He also visited Miss J's college where he was presented a cake made by one of Miss J's cake decoration tutors. He is sending a car to collect both the teacher and the cake on Wednesday and taking both teacher and said cake to Kensington Palace no less!


I spotted this tree made out of paper and pages of books in the library as well as a section called Library of Secrets which is really just a stand of old books and you write a secret on some paper and place it in one of the books. Obviously I placed a little note in one of them with one of my juicy secrets !

Merlin the kitten is growing with rapid speed and is still into absolutely everything. Here is is helping Miss G with her homework and displaying his keen enthusiasm for the subject - Physics.

I have not forgotten my promise of a blog about what is in the beauty products we use and I will be back tomorrow with that post but in the meantime I will leave you with a very rare photo of my tidy dresser which has since had fairy lights attached for some extra sparkle!

See you tomorrow folks!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Let's Get Ready To Crumble!

Despite the glorious sunshine we had yesterday there is a decidedly Autumnal nip in the air today.

The time of year is now upon us for hearty soups, delicious fruity crumbles, stews and dumplings and many other warming meals that might not make our backsides any smaller but are so very comforting.

I have been watching the new Jamie Oliver programme about what you can do with your leftovers and whilst I cannot do the majority of them being vegan and the rest of the household vegetarian I did try out his Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese. This is vegetarian and even if I wasn't vegan I wouldn't eat this as I simply cannot abide anything with a milk based sauce.

I have done a few warming meals lately as opposed to all the salad we have consumed over the summer with it being too hot for anything else.

Courgette and broccoli is a family favourite and it was served with homemade bread made by Miss J.

This is a simple recipe which is on a previous posting but basically you chop and onion and garlic and gently fry them until golden. Add about three three largish courgettes that have been chopped roughly and fry until almost soft. Transfer to a saucepan and add a litre of vegetable stock and a chopped broccoli head. Bring to the boil and simmer until broccoli is tender. Whizz up in a blender adding pepper to taste and serve with bread of your choice.

Yesterday I made a fabulous vegetarian cottage pie. I pad the Quorn mince out with a lot of vegetables. Firstly I chopped two onions and two cloves of garlic and gently fried them until golden. I then added two courgettes finely chopped and fried them along with an aubergine. I must mention here that I whizz all the veggies in my processor so they are very finely chopped! Then I added a few mushrooms and two leeks and gently fried them all together until tender. In a separate pan I friend the Quorn mince with a spot of olive oil until slightly browned and then transferred it to an oven proof dish and added the vegetables and mixed it all together. I mixed up two packets of cottage pie mix with 600ml cold water and poured it all over. As I was making this I had the potatoes boiling so the next job is to mash your potatoes and be very generous with your butter/margarine so it is a nice soft consistency and add a little ground nutmeg to taste. Then cover the mince with the mash and place in the oven until golden and crispy around the edges. This fed six people last night with enough left over for two people for lunch today.

I made a gorgeous plum crumble for pudding but forgot to take a photo so will give you that recipe as soon as I have made another one.

During the week I had tried out Jamie's cauliflower and broccoli cheese and it went down a treat.  Gently fry two cloves of garlic in 50g of unsalted butter.When the butter has melted add 50g of plain flour making a paste and gradually add 500ml of milk whisking as you go until it is nice and smooth and add around 40g of grated cheddar. In the meantime, whilst this is going on boil 1kg of fresh or frozen, I used frozen, cauliflower and 500g broccoli until cooked. When cooked spoon the broccoli out and add it to the sauce for a few minutes. Transfer this to a blender and whizz up until all the broccoli is blended in. You may need to add a splash of milk to loosed up the sauce.
Arrange the cauliflower in an ovenproof dish and pour the sauce over. Add another 40g grated cheddar over the mixture.
Blitz two thick slices of ciabatta or stale bread in a processor along with two sprigs thyme and 25g flaked almonds. Add in a glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and scatter over the cauliflower cheese. Bake in the oven until golden and cooked through.

The recipe is slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe.

Apart from cooking up a storm yesterday I spent the rest of my time sitting in the back garden soaking up what will probably be the last of the sunshine.

Merlin as you can see dear readers decided to have a little snooze in my tub of mint which looks like it's on it's last legs. 

Now I must dash as I have potatoes that need roasting and people are starting to get peckish. My youngest is almost home from a Geography Field trip to Weston-Super-Mare where she was to carry out a survey of local people to ascertain the local amenities but after arriving at 11:30 am and then on lunch at 1pm and in Superdrug with friends buying Little Mix make up and back on the coach at 2:30pm I cannot see what research they managed but anyhow ...

Until next time when I hope to bring you the plum crumble recipe and perhaps my lovely veggie curry one as well ... I'll leave you with this ...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Frolicking in the Autumn Mist

Oh deary me I have let things slide again haven't I dear reader? The last time I blogged was in August and I hang my head in shame. I honestly don't know where the time goes I really don't!

So in case any of you are wondering what I have been up to I shall bring you up to date.

The third of September saw the opening of the very lavish new library in Birmingham. Love it or hate it and the fact that it cost a reported £189m to build, it is a spectacular building and I just love the roof gardens and  I will be spending time there on sunnier days with a good book for sure.

I do confess to not liking the outside of this building too much at first but it has rather grown on me now.

So, what else have I been up to I hear you ask?

Miss J went to enrol on her Bakery Diploma so Miss G and I tagged along and decided to go to the Ikon gallery. The Ikon is a contemporary gallery in Birmingham but it was a bit too contemporary for me on the day as I fail to see how two pieces of fruit swirling around in a tub of water is art but maybe that's just me! Hopefully their next exhibition will be better.

I do love the water feature near Brindley Place. It was such a warm day that I just wanted to lay in it but Miss J and Miss G would have died of embarrassment! 

We came across another exhibition that featured some celebrity artists such as Billy Connolly and Bob Dylan. I couldn't take too many pictures as it was a gallery where you buy the pictures and their beady eyes followed me about too much for my liking. I guess I looked like I was about to run off with the Dylan one that caught my eye!

I quite liked this one as well but cannot remember who it was by ...

We have quite a lot of canals in Birmingham and it has been said that we have more than Venice. It has also been said that that is an urban myth so who knows!

Last Monday evening saw me and Miss J pootle off by train to the LG Arena to see Paramore who she adores. I admit to never having heard a single song of theirs until they came on stage so I was open minded and I LOVED them. They were amazing and I would see them again.

I have also been involved in several parcel swaps over on Instagram. I have received some wonderful gifts from people as far afield as America and Trinidad. I have chosen my favourite two to show you. Thank you Simone xx

The theme for this swap was "Green" and Simone chose things to reflect that as well as the boho/Moroccan look that I love as well as some seeds and crocheted buttons which are just fab! You cannot quite see the lantern but it is lovely and arrived safely and in one piece all the way from Trinidad unlike the mug I sent to someone more local! 

This was part of the "Great British Bake Off Swap" and it came from the USA and full of goodies including THE most delicious homemade peach bbq sauce and a spiced pumpkin scone mix which I very much look forward to making. The pumpkin cookie cutter will be tried out soon as well and I have my eye on a cake recipe in the magazine as well.

The curtain update for Miss J and Miss G's room is that they are now made and in position. I dyed some calico in a hot pink and lined them with some vintage sheets. I made concealed tab tops at the back and hand stencilled gold stars all over them. Merlin, the kitten also walked all over them several times for luck as I carried this task out on the lounge floor, as you do. The trim is a beautiful gold trim backed by a vivid blue and was sari fabric that I have had for ever and a day and never got round to using. 

The keep fit - or rather try and get fit - has started again in earnest. So, early morning power walks through the beautiful park that is on my doorstep almost. I have it in my head that I want to do a half marathon next year. As to whether I'll survive it is another matter but I'd like to give it a try and Miss J has said she'll do it with me and so we have started walking - that will lead to running at some point. Why do I do these things? I am build for comfort not speed as you will have spotted in a picture above!

We spotted these fine looking beasts towards the end of our walk. A local farmer has permission to let his cows graze in the park during the summer months and then he takes them all back to his farm for winter. There are also wild horses in the park and now and again a deer may be spotted. I have yet to see one but Miss J and Mr D have seen them.

An update on little Merlin the kitten. He loves to sleep on the dresser in the kitchen. That is when he is not creating havoc by pouncing on feet and digging his claws into you.

As some of you may know I do love to read. I usually pass my books on to charity shops of friends but I also pass them on via Bookcrossing. If you are lucky enough to find one please log it in online as it is so nice to see where it ends up. I have left hundreds all over the country and abroad and not many people take the time to log it in so it would be nice if any of you found one and did. I have had a few end up in America and one I left in Lyme Regis over the summer is now in Italy so they do get about. This one was left in Birmingham last month.

So dear reader, I am sure you are bored by now and long to get up and make a nice cup of tea. But before you do I will leave you with this ...

I will be back later in the week with a few recipes for you but until then enjoy the rest of your day and thank you so much for taking the time to read my ramblings xxx

Monday, 19 August 2013

Bohemian Bedrooms ...

As I mentioned on my last post Miss J has now decorated her bedroom in a Bohemian fashion as was her wont ...

It still needs some finishing touches to complete the look but the major part has now been done.

The ceiling was painted a dark blue and there will be gold stars all over it as soon as they arrive in the post. Miss J's boyfriend papered the wall in a brick print wall paper which I adore and I want to put it all over the place now. This was from Wilko and was just under £10. We were on a very tight budget so every penny counted! The shelves were painted in some paint left over from I repainted the kitchen a while back.

Miss G wasted no time in getting her Little Mix calender back in prime position. The desk was painted to match the room and wallpaper was pasted on top. The wallpaper was just a sample piece from my local DIY store and free!

A bit of a blurry shot but that is a bit of Miss J's corner with some of the hundreds of books that survived the cull and went to the charity shop! Miss J utilised her existing fairy lights and nailed them onto the edge of the bookshelves to create ambience she says!

A bit more of Miss J's corner and as you can see dear reader the desk top has yet to be covered in wallpaper! I have been so busy and hardly had time to think these past few days and I need to paint and re-cover two desk chairs as well as make curtains ... 

Wardrobes were also painted in left over paint and the doors were painted in some left over blackboard paint and no time was wasted in writing and drawing all over it by both Miss J and Mr D - aah, young love!

Miss G went for something closer to home on her wardrobe doors - food, music and Harry Potter!!

I love this little part of the room with the gorgeous smell of incense and the Moroccan candle holder - very Bohemian isn't it? The chest of drawers were painted and we went over it with some glitter paint by Dulux but I wouldn't waste your money dear readers as there was hardly any glitter in it. Whilst it was still wet we sprinkled each drawer with fairy dust which Miss G remembered she had squirrelled away from a trip to Glastonbury last year and it worked a treat!!

Finally the woodwork was painted a hot pink and the ottoman which I got at a charity shop last year had sari fabric thrown over it to finish off the look. The bed will be replaced in time - when I can find something suitable in a charity shop somewhere as it has to be done thriftily ... Just noticed that the flowers need composting but Miss J is hanging onto them until the bitter end as Mr D bought them for her ... 

I will leave you with something to ponder until next time ...