Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Very Vegan Christmas

I can never decide if I love Christmas or am indifferent to it. I like the build up and I like giving people presents but then it's over so quickly and I'm left with a mixture of lingering guilt for eating crappy food and an urge to eat more of the same as it's still in the house. But I think all in all, I do enjoy Christmas.

This year I received some wonderful vegan presents that I'd like to share with you so you can head out and find them too if you like the look of them!

1. Booja Booja Truffles


I don't think the cat was very happy that I was balancing chocolates on her,
especially after not letting her eat any...
I love these truffles. Booja Booja truffles are gluten free, vegan, organic, GMO free, raw and soya free - so they tick a lot of boxes for people! And they're also amazingly delicious!

I've tried a few of their flavours before but for Christmas my mum bought me a huge selection box with all the flavours they make so that I could try the ones I've not had before. Yum Yum Yum. The box contained 20 truffles in total - 4x champagne, 4x hazelnut, 3x rum sozzled sultana, 3x banoffee toffee, 3x around midnight espresso, 3x stem ginger. I had only tried hazelnut and stem ginger previously so was very interested to try the others. However, I don't like coffee at all so didn't try the espresso flavour - my mum informs me they were lovely though!

Now that I've tried them all, I'd say my top three were the hazelnut (because who can beat the combination of hazelnuts and chocolate), stem ginger, and banoffee toffee. They were all good though! You can definitely taste the alcohol in the boozy ones so watch out if you don't like alcoholic chocolates...

2. Hot Chocolate Gift Set



Anyone that knows me, will know I don't really do hot drinks. I've never liked tea or coffee. But I do like the occasional hot chocolate (which is now becoming more like "every Friday" than "occasional" as I now walk past Starbucks every day on the way to work and they've stopped charging extra for soya milk...). So when I unwrapped a VEGAN hot chocolate set with VEGAN marshmallows and a VEGAN CHOCOLATE SPOON (I've never had one as they all seem to have milk in...), I was rather excited. Yes it was as good as it sounds. You can find it over on Alternative Stores if you want to give it a try (they also have some other yummy things).
I think maybe I overdid it with the marshmallows??
3. Ice Cream Maker

I've wanted an ice cream maker for a while, after staring longingly at all of Chocolate Covered Katie's ice cream recipes. (Seriously, if you've not heard of this blog you NEED to go check it out now. There are some amazing recipes on there.) However, I've not got around to looking into different brands of ice cream maker and finding out which one I want etc etc, so when Mr Hatter's mum asked what I want for Christmas I mentioned it in case she saw a cheap one somewhere, as the Lidl nearby sometimes has offers on gadgets like this. So on Christmas day I ended up with a shiny new ice cream maker! I can't wait to try it out. It's currently in the freezer waiting for me to use it tomorrow - what better way to start the new year than with home-made, healthy ice cream??

4. LUSH Snowman Bath Ballistic


I had a hard time coming around to liking LUSH. It was the smell. That overwhelming mixture of different smells that hits you minutes before you get close enough to actually get inside the shop. And I always find the staff a little TOO helpful for my liking - I like to be left in peace when I shop. However, that said, I do buy a lot of my toiletries from LUSH these days, as I do really like their products. They have a great range of products that are suitable for vegans - and they're all clearly labelled with the Vegan Society's sunflower. This snowman was a gift from a friend - so cute! I don't usually have baths but I thought I'd have one today so I could use him up while it's still sort of Christmas. He (I don't know why it's a he) smelled lovely (although I wouldn't be able to described it...) and turned my bath water a pretty shade of pink. And just look at him go when he started fizzing:

 

5. Biona Chocolate Spread

 

My mum likes to buy me indulgent things. Back in my pre-vegan days, we would buy a jar of chocolate spread as a treat when we went on holiday (usually camping or to stay with friends), or for special occasions. So I have missed it a bit since turning vegan. Funnily enough, Mr Hatter and I had also had the same idea! He easily found some chocolate spread (being an omnivore...), and I managed to find something in the chocolate spread section that I could eat! Much to my amazement! It turns out that SunPat have brought out a "choc a nut" spread, which is basically peanut butter with cocoa powder in but it's yummy! The Biona is good too, but it has that wanting-to-be-milk-chocolate taste that most vegan "milk" chocolate has. It's good on toast though. And the SunPat is strange but great - it's not overly peanutty or overly chocolatey and it has a slightly strange texture but there's something wonderful about it. (You'd never guess I didn't like peanut butter before I was vegan as I'll eat it with a spoon these days...) 

6. Ceramic Loaf Set



This was a beautiful gift set, comprising of a lovely ceramic loaf tin, a wholemeal bread mix and a jar of strawberry jam - it just goes to show you can find nice vegan presents in the supermarkets these days! (Sainsbury's tend to be good at labelling their vegan things.) It's not so hard being (or buying for) a vegan now!

7. Vegan Package Swap - December

My vegan package swap box would usually get a full blog post all of it's own, but I want to finish up everything from this year before the end of December (which is in two hours!), so it's finding it's place with the Christmas things, as it was a nice surprise when I picked it up from the post office on Christmas Eve!


I received a lovely package from Austria this month, full of exciting goodies to try. I love getting things from other countries - it's so interesting to see what vegans have around the world!

This month I received: two packets of drink mix, a jar of what I believe is rose-hip jam, some cream for dry skin, two different flavours of wafer biscuit, a mushroom spread (I think), a pack of snacky nuts, some chocolate covered marzipan, and a spacebar. My swap partner said they hadn't been able to find anything Christmassy, but I think chocolate covered marzipan is Christmassy - right? (You're lucky that lasted long enough to be in the photo by the way. It was goood.) We've eaten the wafer biscuits, which were great - my other half particularly liked them as they reminded him of biscuits he had as a child. The spacebar is something I discovered at VegFest earlier this year and I think they are amazing. So that got munched down pretty quickly too! As it happens, I do have dry skin, especially in winter, so I've been testing out the cream. It smells great and seems to be helping my itchy legs to cope with the cold weather. The other stuff we've not tucked into yet as we're still using up our Christmas supplies but I can't wait to get stuck into it all!



So that's the end of my rather long catch-up / recap / last post of 2013. If you've got this far then I thank you for sticking with it! I'm very appreciative of everyone who reads my blog; those who have supported my mad passions by being my guinea pigs; and the special people who go out of their way to help out. You know who you are.

I hope you have all had a great year (mine has been a mad blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of year), and that next year will bring you wonderful things!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Culpitt Goody Bag

A few weeks ago, I saw an advert in a magazine to win a goody bag of cake decorating things just by posting on Culpitt's facebook wall. I thought there was no harm in trying - and I won a bag! Woohoo! I love winning stuff (probably because it never used to happen!)

So then a week or so later, a rather crumpled looking box was sat on the doorstep, in the rain, waiting for Mr Hatter when he got home. The delivery driver had just left the box out in the rain - it should have been signed for and given to someone! Or at least not been left somewhere a cardboard box would get rained on... But the lady from Culpitt was very apologetic - it's just a shame that the delivery company seem to have been a bit rubbish, as some of the freebies arrived damaged. Most of it is still usable though and it was all free so nothing lost I suppose!


It looks like the bundle was geared towards Christmas, however as I seem to have been so disorganised this year, I didn't get around to using them this time, I'm sure it will all get used though! The Merry Christmas stencil might have to wait til next year...

I received a nice selection of items - I would definitely bear their website in mind when looking for somewhere to order from, and I guess that's the idea!

Let's take a look at the non-edibles first. We have a numbers stencil (which will come in handy for birthdays) and the Merry Christmas one that I mentioned above - which will come in handy for Christmas next year when I finally get around to baking a cake. There were also two packs of foil cupcake cases, which look like they are a good size and good quality. I imagine they will be used before next Christmas comes around!



And now onto the yummies...

A nice big block of ready to roll icing - fingers crossed it's a nice tasting one, as some ready to roll icing I think has a rather strange aftertaste. I find it's worse with pre-coloured icing though so hopefully this will be fine as it's just plain white.


These printed sheets were what was damaged in the box smushing, but they look really exciting. They can be cut into various shapes to decorate cakes/cupcakes with patterned shapes. But unfortunately these have been smashed so there's not a huge amount of unbroken sheet to use - I'll hopefully still be able to do something with them though.


Next up we have some silver balls and glitter - you can't go wrong with a bit of sparkle!


And finally we have some cute cupcake decorations. Unfortunately they contain egg albumen so I will have to find a non-vegan friend to give them to - I'm sure that won't be hard!



So there you have it! Hopefully I'll be able to use all the vegan friendly things and show you what happens in a later blog. All in all, a lovely little surprise that came just before Christmas!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Unicorns, Mermaids and Rainbows

A while ago, a friend asked if she could buy a batch of cupcakes as a birthday presents for her vegan friend. The theme was unicorns, mermaids, rainbows, glitter. Awesome.

This was the result:


These are vanilla cupcakes with a dollop of jam baked into the centre, topped with rainbow vanilla frosting, or brushed with melted jam and topped with a layer of fondant and a fondant model. I ended up leaving out the glitter as I didn't have time to find out which brands were vegan - but I got everything else in!

The mermaid is my favourite, and was probably also my favourite to model.


The unicorn was the first one I attempted, so it took me a while as I wanted to take my time and get into it properly, as I've not done much fondant modelling before. I'm pretty happy with the result - although he is a bit fat!


The rainbow came out the size I was hoping for - although I did overestimate how much fondant I would need to make it!


(Apologies the photos aren't the best - I was in a bit of a rush to get them taken and just used my phone. I really need to start using my proper camera for photos...)

The birthday girl seems to have enjoyed them anyway, as this is what she posted on Facebook:

Yay! I love having satisfied customers!

I really enjoyed playing with making models from fondant and hope that I'll get chance to do it again soon. I'm sure I can find birthdays / events / ...Sundays to use as an excuse to practice! If anyone has any suggestions of things I should try to model, let me know! I love a challenge!

What sort of things have you guys made out of fondant?


Sunday, 22 December 2013

TVK2 - The Vegan Kind (box 2)

I received my second monthly box from The Vegan Kind a couple of weeks ago - but I've not yet had time to sit down and blog about it! So let's get to it...


This month's box holds some treats and some useful housey things:

1. Greenfrog All Purpose Natural Cleaner
2. Freedom Mallows
3. Dr Bronner's Miid Magic Soap
4. YAOH Lipbalm
5. Arbonne Protein Bar
6. Mendill Organic Towlettes Samples
7. Christmas Snowflake Decoration


It all looks great!

Here they are in closer detail:

1. Greenfrog All Purpose Natural Cleaner


I try to buy natural cleaners when I can so this will really come in handy. I've not tried Greenfrog before but the bottle says that it is "made from soapnuts sustainably grown in the Himalayan foothills", and I found that the soapnuts from TVK box 1 were very effective at cleaning my clothes so I have high hopes for the cleaning spray. From what I can smell through the plastic, it smells a lot less invasive than a bleach based cleaner!

2. Freedom Mallows


Vegan marshmallows. No longer a thing of myth! I've tried a few different brands of vegan marshmallow, some that I liked and some not so much. One brand (I've forgotten the name) were very strange. Quite a spongy texture and a very strange taste. I do like the marshmallows from Out Of Thus World - especially the coconut ones. I tried the Freedom Mallows when we were at VegFest in London and they're pretty good - even Mr Hatter agreed that they weren't bad! I'm going to put these in some rocky road I think. 

3. Dr Bronner's Miid Magic Soap



This soap is fair trade, uses organic oils and comes in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle. This is apparently "1 soap for 18 uses" - sounds like a miracle worker! It unscented and designed to be kind to skin. 

4. YAOH Lipbalm



I got coconut scented lipbalm, which is great as I love coconut! It smells amazing and I have tested it out already. It's a lot firmer than most other lipbalm I've used before, more resembling a stick of hardened oil than the softer balms I'm used to. But that's not surprising as it seems to be comprised mainly of oils (good ones) and wax. I was a bit skeptical because of this but it softened up nicely once I started using it and made my lips feel nice and soft. 

5. Arbonne Protein Bar



This is a 'nutrition bar' - probably not something I'd pick up in a shop but it sounds interesting nonetheless. It looks like there are tons of vitamins packed into the 48g bar - and inky 170kcal. It's 'fruit flavour' so I'm not really sure what to expect!

6. Mendill Organic Towlettes Samples



This is something that I probably wouldn't buy as I wouldn't really use it but these will come in handy at some point when we're out for the day or at a festival!

7. Christmas Snowflake Decoration



This is pretty and will be hanging on our tree (which we only put up TODAY - 3 days before Christmas!!) just as soon as I get around to stringing it up. 

I'd call that another successful haul from The Vegan Kind!


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Vegan Package Swap - November 2013

This will be the first of a few catch-up blogs as I've been busy recently and haven't had time to blog about what I've been doing!

So first up is a look at what I received in my November Vegan Package Swap. This time, it came from Poland - I love getting post from all these different countries!

This is what I received - no note this time though so we've been guessing at what things are (although we've not had time to try many of them yet...):


It looks like we've got some dried berries in the blue box; two packets of jelly; two packets of pudding of some sort - it looks a bit like angel delight?; some apple crisps and tomato crisps; two lollipops (I ate one before taking the photo...); some sesame (?) crackers; some blackberries sweets; mints; and the last one we're not really sure about - as it says "Paprykarz" we think it's probably some sort of paprika dip - I suppose we could look it up... To the internet!

The translation of Paprykarz warzywny comes up as "vegetable goulash" and the Sante company website says that these pots contain pate/pastes so I'm guessing it's a vegetable goulash flavoured pate. Looks like I'll have to try it and see one lunch time!

Anyway, it seems to be a good haul - I'm looking forward to trying the jelly. We've even ordered some vegan ice cream with our weekly shop so that we can have jelly and ice cream - yay!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Iron Cupcake - November 2013 - Baked in the USA

Last Saturday saw the return of Iron Cupcake in Leeds, this time with a theme based all around American ideas. My idea was to take some popular pie flavours and transform them into a cupcake, so I made a cherry and vanilla sponge (in red and white stripes) with a blueberry "cream cheese" frosting, topped with white stars.


I was helping out on the LoveBread stall at UpMarket in Huddersfield so didn't have much time for decorating this time and stuck with a simple design. However there were some amazing creations (which you can see here ), so I'm going to have to up my game for next year! (Suffice to say I didn't win anything this time!)


Unfortunately I'm going to miss the Christmas competition but that's because I have a Christmas stall of my own that weekend! Details can be found below for anyone who would like to come and see me. There will be other craft stalks there too so fingers crossed for some good Christmas shopping!


Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Vegan Kind (are very kind!)

I like getting things through the post. Maybe that's why I sign up to get free stuff, and why I've ended up signing up to taking part in two vegan boxes a month. Although they are different types of boxes - that's my justification and I'm sticking to it!


Anyway, this new box is being run by The Vegan Kind, and it's being marketed as a "lifestyle box". There are other boxes around that seem to concentrate on one thing like food, treats/snacks, beauty, etc. However, Vegan Kind's box has a little bit of everything and the idea is to provide you with things you may not have heard of or tried before. I think it's a great idea! There are so many products out there (and let's face it, sometimes vegan/ethical products can be pricey) that it's hard to know which products to try without wasting your money. So for £10 (plus £2.95 postage) per month, you can have a selection (5-8 products) of goodies to try, AND the retail value is guaranteed to be more than £10, so you're saving money and hopefully discovering something new at the same time!

Right, onto the box!


It arrived in a pretty white package - delivered by Royal Mail which meant I could collect it whenever I wanted instead of the postie disturbing my neighbours. The cats were straight in there to see if there was anything for them!













Once I finally got to have a look at my box, I discovered a whole host of goodies. There was a welcome letter, recipe card, and a leaflet explaining each item in the box (and also containing some discount codes from certain featured companies!).


So, a quick run down of what we have here:

1. Travel Deodorant by Crystal Spring
2. Organic Miso Bouillon Paste by Clearspring
3. Soapnut Sample Bag by Living Naturally
4. Fizzy Cherry Sweets by Goody Good Stuff
5. The Vegg (plant-based egg yolk replacement)
6. Tea Samples by QI
7. TVK badge by Koolbadges

Some of these I had heard of before, one I'd sampled, and some I've never heard of!

First to go were the sweets from Goody Good Stuff. I like their sweets and have tried a few different ones - the fizzy cherries got munched before I got around to taking a photo of them - oops!

The other products I had already heard of were the Salt of the Earth deodorant, Clearspring Miso Paste, and the Soapnuts.

I've wanted to get hold of some of the Salt of the Earth deodorant for a while. I've used a similar one before, but where the one I had previously was some crystally things in a container, this is a big stick of crystal which leaves a thin layer of mineral salts on your skin. It's a handy travel size too! 






The Clearspring Miso packets are something I've seen before but not used. I do buy Clearspring Miso but I usually buy the big jars of paste as they can just sit in my fridge for ages - they don't seem to go off very quickly. It will be interesting to see how different this variety tastes as we usually buy the brown miso.






I've been trying to find a good, natural, eco-friendly, vegan range of laundry detergent / household cleaner for ages. I'm currently using Ecoleaf for cleaning the house, and I'm happy with that but I've been struggling to find a laundry detergent that I like. We bought some balls that you fill with pellets and they were great for a while but then our clothes started to smell musty even though we changed the pellets in the balls. I've also had some funny scented eco-friendly liquids that we weren't too keen on. I had previously heard of soapnuts but never sought them out to try. So it's handy that I've got a sample pack through my box - fingers crossed they will work out and I can buy some more!



For those of you that want to see what the soapnuts (actually dried fruit shells), this is the contents of the little bag:

As for the other stuff, I'd not heard of any of it before!

The Vegg is an egg yolk substitute. I don't often go for egg substitutes as I've had mixed results in the past. I find I don't need to use a shop-bought egg substitute for baking, and when I tried to make meringues with the egg white substitute I bought they came out tasting like cardboard! However, this stuff will apparently make plant-based "egg yolks" that have the actual taste, texture, smell, etc of real egg yolks. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this as the thought of eating eggs isn't something that I'm comfortable with - I'm not sure if it will be a bit too real for me? But the picture I've seen of the "scrambled egg" that has been made with this stuff looks amazing. So I'll probably stick to the stuff that doesn't look like eggs, even though there is a video on their website showing you how to make a spherical egg yolk to use in your cooking if you so desire. I want to like the idea of trying to do this but I can't seem to get my head around it. It will be interesting to see how this stuff works though - I'm thinking I might try using it to make quiche or something along those lines. And proper french toast (even though the recipe we usually use is lovely).

I'm not a big tea drinker. In fact, I very rarely drink hot drinks and when I do, it's hot chocolate. That said, I do occasionally drink herbal teas for the health benefits or if I want a bit of a detox. So these samples will probably be good for that! I've got two different types of green tea, and a white tea with goji berries. I read the other day that white tea is meant to be a lot better for you than green tea, and I believe goji berries are still classed as a superfood. (I tried them on their own once and couldn't get on with the girtty texture so it would be nice to have a different way to get them into me!)
And the badge is pictured right at the top of my blog!

So all in all I'm very happy with my box. The RRP for each item is listed on the info sheet. If this was all bought separately, it should have cost £15.28 - not bad going for a tenner then! I will definitely be continuing with my subscription to see what other hidden wonders await me!

Big thanks to The Vegan Kind for putting this together!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Bittersweet Baking

This week's post is a little bittersweet. This week was my last week of being able to bake every day as I'm starting work at my new job tomorrow! So yay for new job and earning money but sadness that I won't be able to spend as much time baking. I was half hoping for a part time job so I could continue testing new recipes during the week as well as working but that didn't pan out. My new job does sound interesting, it's just scary starting somewhere new!

So my week in baking:

Monday - I was visiting friends in Darlington all day so no time for baking (much to their dismay!)

Tuesday - I baked a rum cake! This was based on a recipe I'd found online that I wanted to try and it worked well. Very moist and rummy, but not too overpowering. 


Wednesday - Wednesday was spent decorating the rum cake in a Halloween styleee. I like to try new things and as I don't often decorate big cakes I thought Halloween was a good excuse! The decoration was based on Jack Skellington from Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. This is one of my favourite films! I've seen so many amazing Nightmare Before Christmas cakes online but I just kept mine simple. Maybe next time I'll attempt something more extravagant!


Here is some of the detailing around the side:

 

Thursday - On Thursday I made a cobbler based on a Paul Hollywood recipe but with a Greek twist (and no meat!). The baking part of this was black olive scones for the top. They were yummy but didn't rise as much as I would've liked. The recipe used whole meal flour and I wonder if that could be why it didn't have as much of a rise? We also tried the 'Dipmix Garlic' powder that I got in my most recent Vegan Package Swap. It was yummy! I had some leftover puréed silken tofu and just mixed it right in (you're meant to use soy yogurt). It's something I'd definitely think about getting again as it made a very convincing creamy garlic dip. 



Friday - I had an order to bake on Friday - woop! It was an order full of ginger to accompany a bonfire - once it was all made it smelled great! Ginger is a great smell to get you in an autumnal mood! I think there will definitely be some Ginger Christmas recipes coming up. 

Saturday - Next weekend sees the arrival of this month's Iron Cupcake competition, so I needed to practice my bake. I was pleased with the cupcakes (although I'm making some minor alterations) but I wasn't overly impressed with the icing. It tasted good but it was a bit too wet and didn't hold it's shape very well. It did firm up overnight but not enough for me to use it next week. I have a couple of ideas to test though that will hopefully remedy this. 

Sunday - I've been lazy today and baked nothing! What a waste of my last day of unemployment!

In other news, I won a sketch by Jamie Smart and it arrived this week! I love twitter competitions!


I think Jamie Smart like cats almost as much as we do! Speaking of cats, ours liked watching the lightning last night - they are weird! They weren't impressed by the fireworks though. 


So next week you will get to see my Iron Cupcake design but that is perhaps all I've have time for - boo!