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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Eating out Vegan style - (or not so in last nights case)

It isn't impossible to enjoy a meal out and stick true to your vegan beliefs, but it is extremely hard and time consuming.  It kind of takes the fun and spontaneity away from enjoying a meal out, which is perhaps why so many slip up and stick to the mainstream vegetarian meals rather then Vegan.

There are many websites that can assist with vegan meal planning while out, but be prepared to have quite a limited selection.  You will also need to speak to your wait staff to specify you need a vegan meal - not the easiest thing to do if there is a language barrier.

Some chains do offer a vegan selection, but it wont always be possible to force your none vegan friends to eat where you need to.

Last night I went to Wagamamas, a past favourite restaurant of mine that we haven't been able to enjoy since Chris's misdiagnosis of being coeliac.  It was rather impromptu  I didn't check their website and when I found the menu lacking marked vegan foods, I chickened out :(

Trying to at least stick to vegetarianism, I selected a Yasai Katsu curry - It was delicious, but sadly not guilt free :( - It contained both egg and cow milk doh!

We rarely eat out, but from now on I will be sure to do my research before we leave the house.  And for the next impromptu meal out, I will be armed with my HappyCow VeginOut android app :)

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

My Work Room

You may remember that last October I finally gained a room of my very own to work in.  I was very excited and set to work turning it into something functional but on a minimal budget.  Well we definitely have the function side sorted and I personally like how it looks.  We are sadly having to move next year and so I won't be decorating, but I am very pleased with my work space and thought it would be nice to give you all an update.

I have two main work areas; the large table is set up to cut designs and the smaller work bench under the window is usually used to assemble items.

This is a very new addition to the room, my lovely Mother in Law gifted it to me and I think it's the bees knees :) It is already full of crafting supplies, my dream is to fill all the shelves with glass containers stacked full of crafty bits!  I also end up storing a lot of my makes on here as it helps to keep them out of the way when I'm working.

Sugar and Spice (I think that is Spice peeking out) are two very recent additions to our household.  They are taking up valuable work top space in my work room, I let them get away with it because they are just so cute!  Once we move, I will be making them a huge warren to play in as it feels horrid having them caged.  The size difference between them and Boo and Cookie is quite minimal!  I love the way these cute girlies Chirrup at me for attention when I'm working.

This is Esmerelda, she is kind enough to model all my Jewelry for photo's.  An absolute pro; she is happy to stand stock still in the freezing cold whilst I faff about with camera settings, never complaining! ;)

One of my wonderful Bestie's bought this back from America for Chris and I.  We are huge fans of the Nightmare Before Christmas, we even had it as the theme for our wedding!

I love to give handmade gifts, and when I received this crocheted cupcake for Christmas from a Bestie, I was absolutely over-joyed!  Not only does it look super cute, I find it is a wonderful pin cushion!

When I received this for my Birthday last year, I was almost moved to tears.  For a few weeks before, one of my Bestie's had told me that she was making a hand made gift for me.  For her this was a huge deal as she had never attempted anything like it.  She was being very tight lipped about what it was, but kept telling me not to get my hopes up.  When I unwrapped it, I was completely dumbfounded.  The skill it had taken was completely beyond me, she not only designed it herself but also drew up the plans, cut the wood, assembled and decorated it!  She kept pointing out invisible blemishes that she wasn't happy with - such a perfectionist ;) Not only does this hold great sentimental value, it looks amazing and is a great size for holding all my crafty bits and bobs!

The main part of the original design brief was BUDGET!  The entire work room was done for £30 ;)  The only furniture I actually bought was the work bench with the pull out drawers, all others had either been moved from around our home or donated by family members - not too bad ;)

Sadly with our plans to sell next year, our home isn't quite feeling like our own anymore.  I can't wait to move into our new house, and hopefully will be able to decorate my new work room to make it more me!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Icing Stencil

My lovely mother in law bought me some wonderful icing stencils for Christmas.  They were from the Great British Bake Off and were such a wonderful, yet simple idea to decorate a cake.  I knew instantly that it would be something I was going to replicate with my Silhouette Cameo.
Initially I wasn't sure that I would be able to find a suitable material to make the stencil from.  I knew that the Silhouette would not be able to cut the thick plastic that my stencils were made from, and so a lot of research was needed.  After finding out that my machine could cut acetate, I decided to give it a go.
It was my father in laws birthday a week ago and I offered to make a cake to celebrate.  It was just a simple sponge, so I knew that livening it up with a stencil would be perfect!

Although the cocoa powder was trickier to stencil with then the icing sugar, I still think it came out quite well.  My stencil is a lot thinner then the original, but rather then being a hindrance it was actually better as it laid against the curve of the cake.
I do plan to sell a variety of these in the Etsy store and even have a friend after a baroque style for her own cakes.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Humane Organic? Think Again

I have always had very strong views when it comes to animal cruelty.  About 10 years ago I started becoming more aware of how farmed animals were treated and the sometimes inhumane way in which they were killed and processed for meat.  I do truly believe that humans were designed to be carnivores, but I also believe that animals that are destined for the table should be given the best life possible and slaughtered in a dignified way that is as free of pain and stress as possible.

I was suckered into the organic movement a few years ago by Jamie Oliver and co.  He led me to believe that organically reared animals had a much better life and were slaughtered in a humane way.  To my ears it was perfect, the benefits of meat without the cruelty.  I carried on blissfully buying organic produce, (when money permitted) but after reading 'The Fertility Diet' by Sarah Dobbyn, I started to question the effects of consuming meat and dairy.  I even tried cutting out dairy and meat - I lasted less then a week.  I now knew that there was conflicting evidence about how good meat actually was for you, but I had decided to put it out of my mind in favour of my beloved dairy.

Fast forward to January 2013 - we had suffered another miscarriage and I had been told by the wonderful NHS that we were on our own until I reached 30.  They claimed IVF was our only hope and to consider egg donation to bring down the cost of private treatment.  How could I make both the financial and emotional sacrifice for something that in my head would only end in one way - another loss.  It wasn't fair, I only wanted to be a Mother - something that so many take for granted.  Most women believe that motherhood is a right, I know it is a privilege.

I decided to do the dramatic - I planned to go vegan.  The results of Sarah Dobbyn were impressive; Women that followed the strict regime not only conceived naturally or had successful IVF, they also carried a healthy baby to term.  Her small study (I believe it was 300 participants) showed no birth defects, and no losses - a pretty miraculous result.

I knew it was going to be hard, I knew the motivation of a baby should be more then enough to keep me on track, but I just felt so over-whelmed.  Then the horse meat scandal broke last month.  In all honesty I thought that the reaction was hilarious.  People enraged that they had unwittingly consumed poor horses, the word disgusting seemed to be everyone's favourite reaction to eating this meat.  I couldn't believe the hypocrisy! To my way of thinking, if you are happy to slaughter an animal for meat, or enslave a cow or goat for dairy then you have no right to be picky about the kind of animal you eat.  I could understand if people were upset about being misled, but to the majority this didn't seem to be their issue - just the fact that they had ingested horse.

Channel 4 dispatches ran a program on the horse meat scandal which we watched about two weeks ago.  In truth I was working at the laptop and not really paying much attention.  I happened to glance up at a point where they were showing horses being prepared for slaughter.  They were being forced into a narrow partition and once positioned they would be killed.  As scenes go it wasn't all that harrowing - I have seen much worse.  But these horses sensed that something wasn't right.  They were fighting against being forced into the chute and they were losing their footing whilst they struggled to back out.  Something in me seemed to click.

I turned my work off instantly and began looking into the various slaughterhouses around Britain.  I had never been naiive enough to believe that the animals had a nice nap whilst they were killed completely unaware, but I had thought that animals would have had the stress levels decreased as much as possible - after all a traumatic death taints the taste of the meat.

Unsurprisingly I stumbled across many Peta and Viva sites - it made for horrific reading.  I had always know that dairy farming was possibly crueler than meat farming, but had again thought that organic meant that the cows were somehow compensated with a better life.  Peta claimed that organic farming was sometimes crueler as a heffers mastitis was left completely untreated as it would taint the milk.  Organic dairy cows could be left in agony as they were unable to receive the same kind of medical treatment that 'standard' cows were offered.

The worst offender of it all has to be egg farming.  I will admit to being very naiive when it came to chickens laying eggs.  I thought that as there was no pregnancy involved that it was somewhat kinder to the animals.  I haven't bought anything accept free range eggs for quite some time and presumed I was being an informed consumer.  WRONG Although De-beaking (the act of clipping a chickens beak to stop them causing damage whilst fighting) with a blade is illegal, it is still widely practiced throughout the UK.  One of the most upsetting things that I learnt, was what happens to male chicks - a so called by-product of egg farming.  Once the chicks are hatched, they are sorted by sex.  The females are destined to become layers, whilst the male chicks are considered waste.  These poor chaps are used as a combination of reptile food and plant mulch.  As if this wasn't sad enough, they are taken straight from the hatchery (usually by conveyor belt) and are either gassed, or in some instances fed live into a mincer.  I don't think I can ever look at a commercially bought egg in the same way again.

Viva has claimed that this is the dark side to egg farming that companies have tried to hide from consumers - they are right.  We are bombarded with images of happy chickens scamping about the farmyard, whilst bedding down in lovely hay filled barn, I knew this was far from reality, but was still shocked at what I leart.  Most people know the horrors that actually await chickens born into 'none free-range' egg production, but the industry has tried to clean up it's image by making 'battery' chicken laying illegal (only since early 2012), but new legislation states that the new 'enriched' cage only needs to have an extra postcard sized space per hen than the old style cages.  This is still not enough for them to spread their wings and the bottom line is, they are still caged.  So surely free range chickens must have a glorious life?  Sadly no, free range farming is now so intense that although the hens are not caged, they are still confined to indoors.  The latest free range egg farming technique is too keep them all in a covered barn, where they will see little or no sunshine.  The space is still cramped and feather pecking (despite beak mutilation) and cannibalism is rife.  When a chicken slows down egg production, they are slaughtered.

So what about organic meat?  When you have celebrity chefs and the media telling you how much better the lives of organic animals are, surely they must be killed in a more dignified way?  Sadly no, these animals are slaughtered at the same abattoir as general meat, and usually suffer the same degradation and abuse as others.  When I started to look a little closer, the news was not nice.  It would seem almost every UK abattoir has been reported for staff causing physical and mental abuse to animals either through negligence or just a shocking desire to torture them.  The FSA has had to step in many times when either whistle blowing, or video footage has surfaced showing staff physically abusing animals - usually to jeers and laughter.  It would seem that for some people their job role was an opportunity for them to unleash some of their darker fantasies.

So, do I still think that animals should be reared for food?  Yes, but now even more so then before I believe it should be done in a way that reduces stress and anxiety for the animals - both in life and the moment of slaughter.  I still dream of owning a small holding, but for now will just be abstaining from all meat and dairy produce.