Frightening fancies Thursday, Oct 24 2013 

With Halloween coming, there are 3 types of people:

a) Those who lock the doors, draw the curtains, switch off the lights and pretend it isn’t happening

b) Those who dress up, decorate the house, and delight in handing out spooky sweeties to the little costumed ones

and c) Those who end up scoffing all the sweeties themselves…

 

Were I not a teacher of children who love eating sweets, I would perhaps fall into the third category. But Swizzels-Matlow’s Halloween offerings are equally good for anyone who is searching for handily-sized mini-treats to give out to trick-or-treaters at the end of this month, as well as anyone craving a hit of 90s nostalgia. Observe:

sm1The Spooky Trick Or Treat Mix Tub, on the right, is available at Tesco’s, and contains literally hundreds of mini Parma violet, Fizzers and Love Heart tubes, as well as Drumstick lollies and other Swizzels-Matlow family favourites. The lid could secure a little better, but the handle of the pot is robust and does the job, as well as potentially being reusable. Unfortunately this doesn’t contain any specific Halloween-themed goodies, but you may have better luck with the generously-packed Trick Or Treat Lolly Mix (available at Morrison’s), which includes orange and black Drumstick lollies and pumpkin-themed Fruity Pops, among others. Finally, the Trick Or Sweet bag (not pictured) contains yet more favourites, including new Refresher bars. Both bags are eye-catchingly decorated, with bright colours and designs that are suitably evocative of the trick-or-treating season.

I’d say the selections are a little disproportionate sometimes, with definitely more of the hard sweets than the chewy ones (and hardly any Refresher bars at all, in fact, which is a shame). However, they are without doubt bargainous, and should serve all of your guising necessities – as well as your nostalgic needs – ensuring a happy Halloween for all.

On a Quorn-style quest for a higher-quality life Tuesday, Mar 20 2012 

We’re always being told that we are what we eat. On the one hand I am naturally sceptical of this: having suffered with acne for nigh on 15 years, and having found that no change in diet seems to have helped the spots at all, I have no real reason to believe in it. On the other hand, I spent a little over a year as a vegetarian, giving up only when I got myself a French boyfriend (now husband) and realised a move to France (the land of the carnivore) was a real possibility. During that time, not only did my food bill go down, but I was also slimmer and had more energy. Even now that I eat meat again, I am still a vegetarian sympathiser and don’t see the need to eat meat or fish every day at all.

There are plenty of health-related reasons to go veggie – as stated above, even without any meat substitute, my energy levels were through the roof and I enjoyed a slim yet pear-shaped figure (just “slim-ish” these days!). But what about those days when you just really, really miss sausages? Meat replacement products like Quorn can be helpful in this situation (although not in France, where I now live: even though the situation is improving, I have in the past picked up “meat replacement” products here to find chicken in the ingredients list). For those of you who aren’t aware, products like Quorn are made up of mycoprotein, which is a protein that chiefly comes from a fungus named fusatium venenatum. And this protein/fungus has a lot of benefits – basically, it is a superfood.

  • It’s got all 9 essential amino acids, which are classed as ‘essential’ because the body doesn’t make them – so we have to put them in. These strengthen muscles, are good energy sources, help you to stay in a good mood (yes, really – they are precursors for the magical serotonin and dopamine), and help keep your red blood cells working properly.
  • It’s low in fat, which can be good for slimming. 
  • It’s an alkaline product (other alkaline products include herbal teas, carob, and whole grains). This is good for your overall health: our diets should be 70% alkaline as our bodies find it harder to digest acids.
  • It contains minerals, including selenium (which protects cells from damage), zinc (repairs bones, celles and tissues, protects you from disease, and is essential for fertility and digestion), iron (important for muscle protein), magnesium (for body temperature regulation and energy production), and calcium (which is good for strong bones, hair, teeth and nails – which is great news if, like me, you don’t consume much dairy).
  • Quorn also contains plenty of B vitamins, which help with eye health, help with wound healing, and even reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Shepherd’s pie, made with Quorn (sadly not by me). Yes, really.

All of this made me wonder why I hadn’t tried it (or at the very least, hadn’t tried it for a very long time; I genuinely cannot remember if I ever sampled it during my vegetarian days, as I cooked a lot from scratch). I therefore set about trying to find some in France, which is as good as impossible. A shame, as I had (in a funny sort of way) been quite looking forward to sampling it. But it’s certainly affordable (£2.09 for 2 quarter pounders, for instance), and could be a good, healthy way of satisfying a meat craving without actually eating meat. All other ingredients in your recipe stay the same, so it’s hassle-free too. And if it helps your weight, your energy levels, your mood, or your digestion, so much the better, surely!


To set off on the road to a more beautiful and varied life couldn’t be easier; there are plenty of recipes to get you going on the Quorn website and elsewhere. And let others know how you get on, be it here or on my other site, Bianca’s Beauty Blog (where I discuss the beauty benefits of Quorn): make dishes! Upload pictures and recipes! Share your tips and experiences! You can also do the same on Quorn’s Facebook page.

It looks as if I’ll need to try Quorn in England if I’m ever going to (somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to convince my carnivorous French husband to become some sort of elaborate Quorn rustler on his trips to Belgium – where it is sold). But hopefully with the majority of my readers being in the US and UK you’ll find it easier to come by – and will be able to report back on its effects on your skin, your health, your mood, and your life.

Stepping out for Fairtrade Fortnight Monday, Mar 5 2012 

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It can be hard at times to truly stick to the Fairtrade philosophy all the time: you know you should, but for every time you buy a Dubble bar or a bag of Fairtrade coffee, there’s ten more times when you buy Cadbury’s and Nescafé. To promote the Fairtrade movement, celebrities are going to even greater lengths this Fairtrade Fortnight (27 February to 11 March 2012) to raise awareness, with luminaries including Louisa Lytton, Alistair McGowan and Simon Webb all starring in Youtube videos to encourage others to take steps to go Fairtrade.

Through the ‘Take A Step for Fairtrade’ campaign, the Fairtrade Foundation wants to see more individuals and businesses buying and selling Fairtrade products in the UK. The public are being asked to think about what they can do every day, every week or every month throughout 2012 and take a step to make a difference to the lives of farmers in the developing world who produce the products they buy.

With Fairtrade every step counts. In Malawi, for example, sugar farmers earn an extra $60 for every tonne they sell on Fairtrade terms. As a result, farmers in Chinangwa village have been able to bring clean water and electricity to their homes, afford roofs for their houses and school fees for their children.

The more people that support Fairtrade, the more farmers and workers will be able to improve their lives through the better terms of trade it offers. And there’s really no excuse these days for not buying Fairtrade: by shopping at retailers such as the Co-op, visiting your local market stalls, or by buying your coffee and chocolate online at websites such as TraidcraftShop.co.uk, you too can take small steps to Fairtrade-ify your kitchen. I personally get my coffee from Malongo, whose Fairtrade values can be viewed here. It’s not much, on my part, but it’s a start. There’s also an array of Fairtrade cookbooks available; TheFairtradeStore.co.uk has a wide selection that I should definitely invest in.

The Fairtrade Foundation encourages everyone to start their journey at www.fairtrade.org.uk/step, and to check out the rest of the mini-series on the Fairtrade YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/Fairtradefoundation. You won’t regret it!