Light ‘Bulbles’ Christmas Crafting

One of my favourite things about Christmas is seeing all the trees lit and decorated. As we head towards the Winter solstice on the 21st, the days are getting shorter and shorter. A Christmas tree is such a wonderful way to brighten up the living room and give it a warm, cheerful glow.

Christmas Decorations

One of our favourite activities this year is Christmas Tree spotting where we get points for each tree on the walk to and from town. It sure does make the journey quicker for Lil’ L!

Christmas Decorations

This year, we decided to buy a real tree again. I absolutely love the smell of real Christmas trees! As is traditional in our house, the boys fetched the tree and decorated it to surprise me. It looks utterly beautiful! It’s covered in white lights, a couple of strings of gold tinsel, and gold and red baubles. There are a few fun decorations that we’ve collected over the years, like this cute Santa…

Christmas Decorations

But I was surprised to find that there were a couple of new additions to the tree…

Santa Lightbulb

Snowman Lightbulb

Aren’t they sweet? Every time I look at them, they make me smile so much!

It turns out that the boys made them from old lightbulbs that they found in the garage! A few weeks ago, we were invited to take part in a competition by LightBulbs Direct to turn old dud lightbulbs into Christmas decorations. The boys love crafts, so they were definitely up for the challenge (I love admiring other people’s creations as sadly I can’t draw or craft for toffee :/)

Here’s my hubbie to explain how he & Lil’ L made them…

Lightbulbs. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before that they’d make great Christmas baubles. And there are so many different ways to decorate them; paint, glitter, marker pens…

But what about the design? A nice pattern of holly, reindeers and Christmas trees? Something sparkly? No. For me, there are two things that a classic lightbulb naturally lends itself to being. Two things that share the same bulbous, curvaceous profile and shout Christmas. It’s obvious, isn’t it? OK, maybe not. I’m thinking of snowmen and the rotund figure of Father Christmas…

A little bit of white spray paint and a lightbulb is already practically a snowman. Paint a bayonet fixing black and you’re halfway to a classic snowman top hat, it just needs a brim. A couple of googly eyes, buttons and a scarf and you’re there. Unmistakably a snowman, straight out of a Christmas card.

Add some red paint and you’re headed in another direction. Choose a bulb with a screw fitting and this time you’re well on your way to a bobble hat. White beard, cheeky grin, a nice big black belt and there he is. Santa!

I enjoyed doing these with littl’un. Nice bit of Christmas crafty fun. And now the Christmas tree has got a few more decorations hiding in the branches. Next year we’ll bring them down from the loft with the other decorations and we’ll remember making them. A fun reminder from Christmas 2014.

Happy Christmas everyone and Best Wishes for the New Year, M&L, Bath, UK

The competition ends at midnight tonight! Good luck boys xx

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Lil’ L’s Super Sleigh Bed

While I’m far from ready for Christmas, there is someone in my house that’s all geared up and getting very excited indeed. This weekend, Lil’ L’s been busy rehearsing for his part in the school pantomime (he’s playing one of the seven dwarfs), and he also got to work transforming his bed into a ‘Super Sleigh’!

He was recently invited to take part in a competition by Mattress Online and, after initially concerned that he might be getting too old for this kind of thing, he had a complete change of heart when he woke one morning brimming with ideas of how he could turn his bed into a sleigh. He couldn’t wait to start sketching his plans. Breakfast could wait.

Sleigh Bed Plans

This weekend, he got to turn his plans into reality. There was lots of cardboard cutting, followed by spray painting of the sleigh and stars.

Sleigh Bed - Paint Spraying

As he was spraying the stars, he realised he could used them as a template for spraying on the sleigh itself.

Sleigh Bed - Paint Spraying 3

It was a pretty cool effect!

Sleigh Bed - Paint Spraying 4

Next he got to work making cardboard reindeer, which he based on his sketches.

Sleigh Bed - Drawing 2

Once his sleigh was dry, it was a case of tying it to the side of his bed…

Sleigh Bed - Assembling 1

… and tying on the reindeer and tinsel.

Sleigh Bed - Assembling 2

I love the shadows they create on his wall. If you tap the tinsel, it looks like they’re flying and dancing.

Sleigh Bed - Assembling 3

All assembled, it was time to fly!

Sleigh Bed - finished

Here’s Lil’ L to explain how his ‘Super Sleigh’ works…

“My super sleigh has massive rocket boosters on it that can make it travel at the speed of light. The boosters and the steering are controlled by a small remote control which fits into a pocket on the side of the sleigh so I don’t lose it. At the back is a sack full of presents, blankets to keep warm on a cold night and plenty of food. The sleigh has a button that makes santa and the sleigh invisible so that no one can see it. The reindeers also disappear.

The sleigh has a clock which tells the time of day or night wherever the sleigh is so it always arrives on time. It also tells the temperature so Santa knows when to get the blankets out. The sleigh can land on any size roof, even really small ones and doesn’t need snow. The sack is magic and can hold thousands of presents. There is room for a few elves to help out. When all the presents have been delivered I can go to sleep because it’s also a bed”.

and on building the sleigh….

“I built the sleigh out of bits of cardboard that i taped together to make a really big piece. Then i drew a sleigh shape and cut it out with some help from my Dad. I then sprayed the sleigh red and did some swirly patterns on it to make it more interesting. I cut out some stars and used them as stencils for spraying. I like the way they came out. They look like magic dust and stars under the sleigh. I attached the sleigh to my bed with some zip ties.

I looked up some pictures of reindeer on the internet and then i drew an outline on cardboard and cut them out. There are three that pull the sleigh along on a bit of red tinsel. The reindeer at the front has a red nose. That one is Rudolf.

I really enjoyed making my sleigh and I’m going to keep it for the whole of Christmas so that I can sleep in it every night. I’ve never had Christmas decorations in my bedroom before and i think they look really good!”

Sleigh Bed - finished 2

The competition closes on Wednesday 17th December.

Good luck Lil’ L!

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Christmas Pudding Cakes (Vegan Life Issue 2)

When Vegan Life launched in September, I don’t know if anyone anticipated just how well the magazine would be received. It was such a hit that it won this year’s VegfestUK Awards for best publication, and that accolade was purely based on the first issue!

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Issue 2, and was especially excited that it would be the Christmas edition. When it arrived, I was hoping to savour it over a few days but alas, once I got started I couldn’t put it down.

Vegan Life Issue 2 300

Just like the first issue, this one is packed with articles that I found both inspiring and thought-provoking. One feature in particular that caught my eye was the debate on whether vegans should feed pets meat. This is one issue that I’ve been struggling to get my head round. The Vegan Life article prompted a lively debate amongst my Twitter friends. I think I’ve finally decided my stance, but it’s a very tricky issue, and definitely one that people need to decide for themselves ;o)

I’m looking forward to trying all the recipes in Issue 2, but the one that immediately grabbed my attention was the Christmas Pudding Cakes by Harriet Emily. I love Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake, but I’ve never had a Christmas Pudding Cake before! I was intrigued to see how it would turn out. I had a quick scan down the recipe and it didn’t look too tricky at all.

Vegan Life Issue 2 - Christmas Pudding Cakes

The recipe is gluten free, cane sugar free, dairy free, egg free and soy free, so it ticks lots of allergy friendly boxes. It does include almonds, but I’m sure these could be subbed to make it nut free too.

The recipe uses two of my favourite ingredients – coconut sugar and coconut butter. I tend to buy these online as they’re not always available in my local health food shop. If you’re not so fussed about making these cakes super healthy, then I’m pretty confident you could sub them with cane sugar and non dairy spread. The recipe also calls for millet flour which I couldn’t find locally, so I used buckwheat flour instead. It worked absolutely fine. I’m sure you could use regular whole wheat flour too if you didn’t need to make it gluten free.

And the verdict?
I was so happy with the way the cakes turned out. They were moist and flavourful, plus they made the house smell amazing while they baked! They were a huge hit with the family. Hubbie has already requested another batch, and Lil’ L said they were absolutely delicious (and this is someone that usually avoids dried fruits!)

Hubbie preferred his pudding cake straight up with no toppings, while Lil’ L and I enjoyed it drizzled in salted caramel. We used the Considerit Special Edition Salted Caramel from November’s The Vegan Kind Box, but Harriet Emily also shared a recipe for home-made salted caramel, which looks super easy to make.

Christmas Pudding Cake

The treats certainly live up to their name. I really can’t decide whether they are a cake or a pudding. Definitely somewhere in between. They’re baked in ramekins, so you could serve them straight out of the oven, more like a pudding …

Christmas Pudding Cake

Or you could pop them out of the ramekins and serve them like cake. I did find that the portions were a little on the large side. While hubbie easily devoured a whole cake, I couldn’t manage a whole one by myself (and believe me I tried). Next time I make them, I’ll try baking six instead of five and see how the size compares.

Christmas Pudding Cake

I did make a few tweaks to the recipe. I subbed a couple of ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, and adjusted the spice quantities (I used ¼ tsp nutmeg instead of 1 tsp as I find the flavour of nutmeg really strong, plus I omitted the allspice as I didn’t have any). I also reduced the baking temperature from 200C to 180C and the baking time from 40 to 30 minutes. They came out perfect, so I’m guessing the recipe is pretty flexible.

Big thank you to Harriet Emily for sharing her fab recipe If you’re interested in vegan, sugar free and gluten free cooking, definitely go check out her blog. I can’t wait to try her Chocolate Caramel Tarts. They look amazing!


Products used in this recipe (UK sources)

Biona Organic Coconut Sugar
Tiana Organic Coconut Butter (Aroma Free)
Clarks Original Maple Syrup
Doves Farm Wholemeal Buckwheat Flour (this does contain traces of gluten so use Doves Gluten Free Buckwheat Flour or Millet Flour for a 100% GF option)

In Vegan Life, Harriet Emily also shares a recipe for Caramel Sauce, which uses coconut sugar as its base. I’ll update this post once I’ve had a chance to try it (sadly I’ve run out of coconut sugar, but it’s on order).

I also have two caramel recipes by The Vegan 8 bookmarked, both of which I’d love to try with these Christmas pudding cakes. The first one – Caramel Sauce – has melted coconut butter as its base, and the second one – Salted Caramel – is made with sweet potato and coconut milk! It sounds weird but it’s received rave reviews so I’m excited to try it!

Did you get Vegan Life Issue 2? If so I’d love to know what you thought of it. Have you tried any of the recipes yet?

 

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Chocolate Orange Chia Pudding

I first shared a recipe for chocolate orange chia pudding back in February 2012 and, to this day, it remains one of my family’s favourite desserts It’s such a simple pudding to make and, since I originally posted the recipe, I’ve refined the method so that it’s even quicker. Honestly, this recipe could not be more easy! The original photo I took doesn’t do this pudding justice, so I thought it was time for a re-post with the updated recipe and some shiny new photos.

Chocolate Orange Chia Pudding

Since that original post, chia seeds have become much more popular here in the UK. You can buy them in most health food shops, and even supermarkets have started stocking them. They’re also widely available (and often much cheaper) from online stores. I find they can vary a lot in price, so I always shop around for the best deal.

Since I use them daily in smoothies and puddings, lately I’ve been buying the Sevenhills 1kg bags as they work out much better value. You can buy them in a range of quantities though, so it’s probably a good idea to start with a smaller bag if you’re trying them for the first time (Holland & Barrett are currently selling a 100g bag for £2.49).

Chia Seeds

So why do I love chia seeds so much?

Well, there are two main reasons. The first is their amazing nutritional profile. Chia seeds are very high in dietary fibre, a good source of ‘complete’ protein, and rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids. They’re also hydrophilic and can absorb around 10 times their weight in water, thus helping to keep us nicely hydrated. Their fibre, fat and protein content, along with these hydrophilic abilities, means that the seeds are a great source of slow release energy, they help to balance blood sugar levels, and they keep us feeling full up for hours. Adding a spoonful to smoothies is a great way to keep hunger pangs at bay.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds contain a range of trace minerals, and are especially rich in manganese, phosphorus and calcium, which are all important for good bone health. A 28g / 1 oz serving provides 30% of the manganese RDA, 27% of phosphorus, and 18% of the calcium RDA. The seeds also contain a multitude of antioxidants, including the flavonoid quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties.

The second reason I love chia so much is that they make the most incredible chocolate puddings! Once blended with some cacao or cocoa powder and a little liquid, they transform into a delicious, silky smooth pudding that will easily rival any shop-bought chocolate dessert. And unlike the shop-bought varieties that tend to be laden with sugar and little nutritional value, these chia puddings are refined sugar free and packed with nutrition.

Chia Seeds

I used to soak the chia seeds in liquid for an hour or so until they’d transformed into a gel-like substance before blending them up, but these days I literally throw all the ingredients straight in the blender. High speed blenders are best for this job as they’ll blend the seeds smooth in a matter of seconds. Since I’ve had the Froothie, making chia puddings has been a breeze. After blending, the puddings are chilled for half an hour or so, during which time they will thicken nicely.

Lil’ L absolutely loves these puddings and sees them as a real treat. It’s great to be able to treat him to something that’s so nutritionally packed and full of healthy goodness.

Chocolate Orange Chia Pudding

 

Have you tried chia puddings before? If so, what’s your favourite flavour combo? If you’ve posted any recipes or pics, please do share the links below x

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Dairy Free / Vegan Advent Calendars – Top Picks for 2014

Once again, Christmas has sneaked up on me. I thought I’d misheard someone this morning when they said it was 5½ weeks until the big day. Seriously, how did that happen? I really need to get myself organised, make some lists, start thinking about gifts and festive foods. However, first things first… we need to get some advent calendars. Preferably one each, and definitely chocolate calendars. What a wonderful excuse to have to eat chocolate every day for a whole month ;)

There seems to be more choice than ever this year of dairy-free / vegan calendars and especially calendars designed for children, which is really lovely to see. These calendars use rice milk instead of dairy, and are suitable for any milk chocolate lovers.

Whether you’re a milk or dark chocolate lover though, I have a wonderful selection for calendars for you. Here are my top picks for 2014…

For the Milk Chocolate Lovers

Moo Free Organic Dairy Free Advent Calendar
This award winning calendar is made in the Moo Free dairy free UK factory, and is filled with organic, fair-trade, dairy free rice milk chocolate. A full list of UK and worldwide high street and online stockists can be found here. It’s great to see that Moo Free has made it all the way across the globe to Australia and New Zealand!

120g / RRP £4.75

Moo Free Advent Calendar 2014

Holland & Barrett Dairy Free Alternative to Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar
These calendars are filled with organic, fair-trade, dairy free rice milk chocolate and come in two different cute designs, one blue and one pink.

125g / £3.99 (currently buy one get one half price)

Holland & Barrett Dairy Free Advent Calendar blue

Plamil Organic Fairtrade Milky Dairy Free Advent Calendar
This fun, brightly coloured dairy free milk chocolate advent calendar is made in the Plamil factory which never uses dairy, gluten or nuts. It’s available to buy directly from Plamil. You can get 10% off your first order by entering the code FIR14 at checkout.

125g Price: £4.95

Plamil Dairy Free Advent Calendar

Tesco & Sainsbury’s ‘Free From’ Calendars
It is really encouraging to see that UK supermarkets have started selling ‘Free From’ calendars made with rice milk. Hopefully more will follow suit in the future. So far I’ve spotted dairy free calendars in Sainsbury’s (72g / £2.69) and Tesco (72g / £3.25. Currently on a ‘3 for 2’ offer until 23/11/14)

Tesco Free from advent calendar

For the Dark Chocolate Lovers

And for the dark chocolate lovers, I have two beautiful high quality advent calendars.

Montezuma’s Organic and Vegan Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar
This calendar is filled with 240g of Montezuma’s organic house blended chocolate. New for 2014, each window has a picture behind it! It’s available from the Montezuma’s high street shops  and online.

240g / £9.99

Montezumas-Christmas-Advent-Calender

Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar
This high quality, super stylish calendar is filled with 24 Christmas sculptures, including reindeer, snowmen, penguins and enchanted Christmas trees, cast in smooth 70% dark chocolate. It’s available from Hotel Chocolat shops or you can order online. If you’d like to send the calendar as a gift, a personalised message card can be included for free when ordered online. Use the code VNOV10 at the checkout to receive 10% off (expires 23/11/14)

125g / £12.50

Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar Collage

 

Have you bought your advent calendar yet? If so, do you tend to go for a chocolate calendar or do you prefer the more traditional wooden or cardboard ones?

 

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