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Christmas Cookie Bars

These cookie bars are a Christmas staple in our house and have been for years. The cinnamon makes the house smell all festive and you know it’s not long until the big day!

My mum and I would make them but instead of cutting the tray bake in to bars we would use biscuits cutters to cut out Christmas shapes to make them even more festive and so we could give them as gifts (it was totally not so we could sit on the sofa watching Christmas TV and scoffing a bowl of all the offcuts of cookie left behind by cutting out shapes)

This year I’ve made them with my toddler and we’ve adapted the recipe to be vegan and it’s also soya and nut free. Her opinion on them was that they were “yum yum”.

So here’s what you need:

Ingredients

  • 270g vegan baking spread
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 160g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp egg replacer and 4tbsp water ( you could make 2 flax ‘eggs’ if you prefer
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 220g raisins

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C.
  2. Put the butter and both sugars in a bowl and cream together.
  3. Add the egg replacer mix, mixing well.
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  5. Add the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and oats to a separate bowl, and mix well.
  6. Then combine the dry mix with the butter mixture and beat until well mixed.
  7. Stir in the raisins until evenly distributed.
  8. Put the mix in a traybake tin, if it’s too thick and sticky thin with a little milk first (we use oat) .
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm. It will depend on the size of tin you used as to how thick your bake is, so check regularly to make sure it’s not burning.
  10. Once they are cooled you can take them out the tin as they are easier to cut in to bars when cool. (Or you can cut in to Christmas shapes to give them as gifts and then so you don’t waste anything eat the leftover bits like we did!)

Notes: You can do steps 2-6 altogether if using a food mixer as the ‘all in one method’ just don’t use a mixer for the raisins as we want to keep them whole so you get large juicy raisins in the bars.

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How to: Salt dough Decorations

One of the favourite craft projects in our house is homemade salt dough! My daughter loves making salt dough ornaments, and I love that I always have the supplies on hand to mix up this salt dough recipe.

This Christmas we’ve spent a day making salt dough ornaments for our tree. It’s a wonderful family activity that ends with us having beautiful ornaments that will last for decades!

Recipe

The recipe for these ornaments doesn’t get any easier. You need exactly three ingredients:

  • Plain/ All-purpose flour (4 cups)—I recommend sticking with all-purpose flour here because it’s affordable, it’s easy to work with, and it creates the most consistent color.
  • Table salt (1 cup)—Again, make sure to add the salt to preserve these ornaments! Just go with the generic brand table salt here.
  • Warm water (1 1/2 cups)—The warm water helps the dough come together a little bit easier. Plus, you’ll knead the dough with your hands, and warm dough is so much more comfortable to knead in the winter!

Chances are, you’ll have all the items you need to make these ornaments already in your house. Here’s a general list of what we used to make our ornaments:

  • Mixing bowl and large spoon
  • Parchment paper/silicone baking mat
  • Rolling pin
  • Biscuit cutter
  • Toothpick, straw or skewer—for poking a hole for the ornaments to hang from
  • Baking tray
  • Craft glue to make a varnish for the ornaments
  • Paints and paintbrushes
  • Ribbon/twine/wire for hanging the ornaments
  1. In your large mixing bowl, place the flour and salt. Stir until well combined. Then, slowly pour in the warm water while stirring. Keep stirring until you’ve added all the water.
  2. You’ll get to a point where it is too hard to stir with a spoon. Put it down and use your hands to mix it well, like you would any other dough.
  3. Once the dough starts to come together, keep kneading with your hands for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable.

Now that your salt dough is made, you can use it just like you would modelling clay to make sculptures, or you can roll it and cut it out to make ornaments or salt dough handprints. This time we made Christmas ornaments:

If you’ve ever rolled and cut out sugar biscuit, you’ll be an expert at doing with the salt dough! (This is my daughters favourite part) Here’s the process:

  1. Sprinkle a little flour on your parchment paper or silicone baking mat and roll out the dough until 2-4mm thick. You want to err on the side of a thinner dough because if it is too thick, the ornaments tend to split or break easily because of air pockets that get trapped in the middle.
  2. Then cut out your shapes using cookie cutters, and put on your silicone baking sheet or you baking tray lined with parchment.
  3. Take a skewer, toothpick, stainless steel straw, or any other pointy/pokey object, and poke a hole in the top of each ornament for a ribbon to hang from.

Bake the ornaments in a 120°C oven for 1-2 hours depending on the siege and thickness of your decorations. This isn’t an exact science, because inevitably, your shapes won’t be 100% even in thickness. They are done when they feel hard. They are really done if they start to brown (don’t worry if they do go a bit brown, you can just paint over the brown bits!). Let the ornaments cool completely before decorating.

I used acrylic paints and gave my daughter her regular paints and brushes. I stuck with the colour scheme of the room the tree is in, and my daughter used the toddler method of all the colours at once – but it’s really up to you to get creative on how you want to decorate.

Once all your decorating is dry, you need to seal these ornaments so they last a good, long while. While the salt does an excellent job of preserving the salt dough itself, sealing the ornaments will help keep all the decorations you just lovingly decorated looking great for years to come.

Make the “varnish” with one part glue to two parts water. I just do one coat on each side and let it dry completely in between. We used our cake cooling racks for this.

String up the ornaments using pretty ribbon or twine, and then put those beautiful new ornaments on your Christmas tree! These could also be used to make wonderful, thoughtful gifts

Our tree this year with its lovely new salt dough ornaments
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Merry Mulled Wine

mulled wine

Mulled Wine. It’s the ultimate Christmas drink. It’s such a Christmas tradition, just like cards, trees and gift-giving. It’s warm, it’s cosy and flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, and orange it smells like Christmas Day.

Ingredients

  • A 750ml bottle of red wine -(virtually any red wine will do. Don’t waste money; you just need something that has fruit and alcohol)
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 75g caster sugar (to taste)
  • a splash of brandy (optional)

Method

  1. Carefully peel the zest very thinly from the lemons and one of the oranges using a vegetable peeler. Squeeze out the juice and reserve.
  2. Stick the cloves into the other orange.
  3. Pour the wine, a pint of cold water, and the citrus peel and juices into a large saucepan. Add the clove-studded orange and the cinnamon sticks. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, cover the pan with the lid, and continue to simmer for about an hour. Stir in the sugar gradually during cooking, until the mulled wine is sweetened to your liking (you may not need all of the sugar).
  4. Strain the mulled wine and serve hot.
mulled wine

No Alcohol Version

For the non-drinkers, children and drivers, this is a great alternative to the boozy version:

Ingredients

  • 750 ml Cranberry juice
  • 250 ml Orange juice
  • 1 large orange + the zest of another orange
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 2 Star anise
  • 10 Cloves
  • 5 pods Cardamom

Method

  1. In a large saucepan, boil the orange juice until it becomes syrupy.
  2. Stick the cloves in to the orange and put it in the pan, along with the other mulling spices and the cranberry juice and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and let them rest for 2 hours for spices to infuse.
  3. Strain the spice mix before serving and ladle them into the glasses.
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“I’m dreaming of a zero waste Christmas…”

zero waste Christmas guide

After Christmas, an estimated 1 billion cards end up in the bin, 124 thousand tonnes of plastic packaging will be thrown out, 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper is binned, 6 million trees are discarded, and £42 million of unwanted presents are thrown away. The environmental cost of this waste is astronomical yet much of it can be avoided if we’re willing to alter our habits. 

(Source: envirowaste.co.uk)

Christmas is traditionally a time of overindulgence and over-consumption, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And being a little bit more conscious during the festive season won’t turn you in to the Grinch. So here’s our ultimate guide to having a zero waste Christmas and still having a jolly old time of it. (Advanced warning, you may want to get a cup of tea, it’s a long one – well we did say “The ultimate guide”.

The Tree

There’s a big debate over whether a real tree is more sustainable than a fake tree, and I’m of the opinion that a real tree is more sustainable IF they’re composted at the end of their lives. This is because Christmas tree farms grow trees all year round which absorb carbon throughout the year, then composting them turns them back into a nutrient rich soil.

If your only option is to dump your tree at the landfill, then consider opting for a fake Christmas tree or an alternative tree, like the examples below, as just one real tree that ends up as landfill produces 16kg of Co2. Of course, if like us you already have a fake Christmas tree then use it as long as possible. We’ve had ours in excess of 20 years, and now I’m using it with my children There’s no need to throw it out in lieu of a real one.

A Real Tree in a Pot: a real tree in a pot can (in theory*) be used again and again each Christmas. For the most sustainable option, don’t restrict yourself to the “standard” pine Christmas tree, look at what is suitable for growing in pots, and remember different pine trees will suit different conditions. (*we tried this a few years ago an unfortunately our tree got “shock” when we put it back outside so it didn’t last very long, this is something to be mindful of)

Rent a Tree: I recently saw a feature on Rental Claus on the news and it is a brilliant idea. The premise being you rent a true pot grown, living Christmas Tree for the month of December and after Christmas they are returned to the fields and cared for, watered and fed until its time to go out again. And you can rent a tree then have the exact tree again the following year!

Driftwood / Pallet Tree: if you’re creative, you can make a tree out of driftwood or other materials. For a slightly less labour-intensive approach, paint a tree onto a surface (e.g. a wooden pallet). Pinterest has loads of ideas.

The Decorations

As pretty as it all looks, the glitter that you’re still hoovering out of the carpets in May, the cheap plastic baubles that break easily when the tree is attacked by your cat, your toddler or a wobbly & overly refreshed relative, and the environmentally damaging tinsel can all be swapped out for more eco friendly options without losing any of that Christmas magic.

Christmas Cards: if you receive Christmas cards, hang them over string and use these as a bunting-style decoration. After Christmas, cut out the images and use to make decorations or gift tags for the following year. This is something my Mum has done as long as I can remember. I recall sitting on her bed as a child, helping her wrap the Christmas presents and sorting through all of last years cards labels to pick one that best suited each person or matched the wrapping paper.

Solar Lights: if you want to light the place up, solar lights might be an option. Candles (soy rather than paraffin) also add a Christmassy glow to things and are a more natural alternative.

Make your Own: If you want to give crafting a go then why not try salt dough or home made Airdry Clay decorations, popcorn garlands, paper decorations or make your own festive bunting. These are all brilliant activities to get you in the festive mood and great ways to involve the children, as well as saving money. Check out our blog post on making your own salt dough decorations.

Natural Decorations: sticks, flowers, cones and leaves are plastic-free and biodegradable, and the more local the better. If you can forage your own, excellent; alternatively go to a florist and find out what is in season. Decorate candles with cinnamon sticks, string together dried oranges or decorate them with cloves and hang them up. Add ribbons to pinecones to make baubles or create your own stick wreath.

The Food

An incredible 270,000 tons of food will be wasted over Christmas in the UK this year and more worryingly, Love Food Hate Waste says that we waste an astonishing 1 million tonnes of festive roast dinners worldwide. That equates to an incredible 4.2 million Christmas dinners getting binned! To put it another way, that’s enough to feed everyone in The counties of Essex, Devon and Surrey, or the entire population of Croatia!

Here’s some ideas to reduce your food waste at Christmas, cut back on the plastic and reduce the carbon footprint of your festive food:

Buy from Bulk Stores: if bulk stores, refill shops or zero waste stores are an option for you, embrace them! We are lucky to have several near to us and they are a brilliant way to cut your plastic consumption. (If your ever in East Cornwall/West Devon, check out No Wrap No Crap in Liskeard or Jar in Plymouth). As well as general groceries, bulk stores usually sell plenty of snack foods, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit etc, that usually come overpackaged in plastic. Bring glass jars or old Tupperware, and fill up, packaging free.

Make It Yourself: foods made from scratch don’t come in plastic. Plenty of food can be made in advance so there’s no need to end up overwhelmed and panicked with no food ready on The Big Day. Christmas cakes and puddings can be made a good month in advance, and some foods (pastries and even veg dishes like braised cabbage) can be made in advance and frozen. Several types of veg can be pre chopped and kept in the fridge for several days to ease the culinary burden. Decide what kinds of foods you’d like to have, then take some time to look up how easy they are to make, and decide what will work with your timeframe, ability and energy levels.

Give Vegan a Go: though it might be a controversial topic to broach around the dinner table, experts have said that the single-biggest positive impact an individual can have on the environment is by cutting out meat from their diet, or at least cutting down considerably. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that not eating meat and dairy products can reduce a person’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. Granted this may not be something everyone wants to try, but even just swapping one item for a vegan alternative still makes a difference and would not only help the planet but also the animals, and maybe your health too (though not if you’re swapping in chocolate filled puddings with salted caramel ice cream and covered in whipped cream – yes you can get vegan versions of all of these!). Win, Win, Win!

There are an increasing number of tasty vegan alternatives for Christmas dinner available at mainstream supermarkets now, or you could try making your own seitan roast or a mushroom wellington centrepiece or how about getting some vegan dairy and egg alternatives in to do your own baking. And what could taste better than knowing you’re helping fight climate change?

Reusable Containers: if you’re going to be cooking up a storm on Christmas day, or you will be pre-preparing lots of food so you can avoid cooking for the rest of the week, reusable containers are a must. Most things keep better (and last longer) in sealed containers. Make sure you’ve got plenty of glass jars, Pyrex, Tupperware or wax wraps. We have a great choice of designs on our vegan wax wraps from Waxyz in the shop.

Forgo Traditional Food: 17.2 million Brussels sprouts are chucked every Christmas, which is no surprise, considering up to half of us can’t stand them.

The carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the 172 tonnes of wasted sprouts could power a home for three years.

refood.co.uk (Europe’s leading specialist food waste recycling service provider),

If you don’t like them, you will not be haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past or in trouble with the Christmas Police if you decide to serve a different vegetable instead, but if the fear of not conforming (or of what Auntie Maureen will say) has you in too tight a hold, it may be your cooking method that need changing up, so have a look around for recipes with alternative ways to serve the traditional fayre.

Conscious Buying: reducing Christmas food waste starts in rethinking the way we shop for it. A bunker mentality seems to take over in the run up to Christmas. People panic-buy in droves, as if in preparation for a Christmas apocalypse. Considering that the shops only really close for just one or two days, and no one will die if you run out of Brazil nuts, it’s worth adjusting your perspective. You might have bought enough to feed an entire infantry division for a week, but who’s going to want to eat parsnips for three days straight, and you may still be eating chestnuts come Burns’ Night.

Use Leftovers: have a plan for your leftovers. Think of meals that could use up excess (e.g. bubble & squeak for your potatoes and cabbage). Ensure you use up the stuff that will go off first, and then use up the things that can wait in the fridge for a few more days.

Freeze Leftovers: lots more things can be frozen than people realise. Dips, roasted veggies and cake can all be frozen. Freeze what you can and eat up what cannot be frozen first.

Avoid Individually Wrapped Foods: if you do decide to go down the packaged route, try to choose items with less packaging and avoid things that are individually wrapped or completely overpackaged. They will cost you more and fill your bin with waste! You’re mainly paying for plastic wrapping really.

Excess Food: if you did go mad and bought too much food that would otherwise go to waste, download Olio and share food that’s going spare with your local community.

The Gift Wrap

Wrapping paper is used for such a short period of time. And so much of it cannot be recycled because it has glitter on it or is foil based. Defra estimates that enough paper is used each year to gift wrap the island of Guernsey. There are so many alternatives including furoshiki, reusable gift bags, vintage tins, tea towels and scarves:

Last Year’s Gift Bags / Paper: if you can’t recycle then reuse, so if you had the foresight to save last year’s gift bags and paper, use these this year. It’s also worth pulling all the Christmas stuff out of the cupboards and seeing exactly what is there before going to buy new so you don’t buy anything you already have. If you use a lot of wrapping consider trying to salvage the best of this year’s packaging for use next year.

Tie with Ribbon/String or use Paper/Washi tape: to avoid unrecyclable sticky tape, tie parcels with ribbon or string (both of which can be reused by the recipient). Washi tape is a paper-based sticky tape alternative if you prefer or like me aren’t the neatest of gift wrappers.

Decorate with Nature: to spruce up brown paper or newspaper parcels, use nature. Holly or pine cones work if these are seasonal where you are, cinnamon sticks look Christmassy and are easy to find at bulk stores, and rosemary is an easy find that looks (and smells) good. Pinterest will have some inspiration for you.

Newspaper/Brown craft Paper: if you receive a newspaper at home or at work then make use of this to wrap presents. And brown craft paper is a glitter-free, embellishment-free wrapping option that is much easier to recycle than many types of wrapping paper, and it can also be reused if unstuck carefully.

Furushiki: the Japanese art of wrapping items in cloth. The cloth can be scrap fabric, a scarf, or whatever you have available. There are lots of great tutorials online. You could also make it part of the gift if it is a nice scarf or tea towel.

The Presents

Finder tell us that over 21 million people receive at least one unwanted gift each Christmas. And worse still, around 5% of those will be thrown away, they won’t even be regifted, sold or given to charity!

Food Items (Purchased or Homemade): everyone eats, so food is a pretty safe bet for gifts. At its simplest, filling a jar of treats from the bulk store is a good gift, you can add a ribbon and a homemade label to add a festive feeling. If cooking or baking is your thing, Christmas is a great time to get creative.

Books: books are great gifts for people who love to read. It is often possible to find second-hand books in great condition.

Second-Hand: second-hand is a much more zero waste option than buying new, and second-hand doesn’t have to mean old, tired or worn out. Whether it’s antique furniture, vintage jewellery, preloved clothing, refurbished electronics or simply something great you found in the charity shop, gifts do not need to be straight out of the factory and smothered in the plastic wrappings that entails, buying second hand stops those items that someone else didn’t want from ending up in landfill and gives them a new life with someone who will get use or joy from them.

Plants: plants are another great gift idea, whether it is house plants, seedlings, a potted herb for their window sill or a tree to plant out in their garden.

Eco-friendly Gifts: this is gifts that encourage eco-friendly living. Maybe your mum might use less cling film if you gave her some wax wraps for her leftovers. Maybe your flat mate would eschew the takeaway cups if she had a stylish reusable coffee cup to use. Looking for more inspiration? Take a look at our shop.

Experiences, Workshops and Memberships: I’m a big believer in experiences over stuff. Tickets to an event, a workshop, a show, or membership to an attraction, a sky diving experience, or vouchers to a favourite restaurant make great no-waste gifts.

Charity Gift Cards and Donating to Charity: Charity gift cards are gifts that typically go to people in less economically developed countries, help fund charity projects, or look after animals, via the person you “gift” them to. You buy a goat for someone in South America, sponsor a tiger in Asia or donate to a school fund for girls in Africa, and your gift recipient receives a card telling them this is what you’ve done.

If you want to do away with the cards altogether, you can make a donation to charity in lieu of gifts, and tell everyone that is what you’ve done. And if you have a charity close you your own heart you could ask everyone to donate to them instead of getting presents for you.

Secret Santa for Family Gifts: If the prospect of every family member getting a gift for every single other family member overwhelms you (and you can’t bear the thought of all the excess and waste), a Secret Santa can reduce the burden. Names are put into a hat, and each person gets one name – the person they buy the present for. The upside of this (aside from the reduced financial strain) is that if there is only one present to buy, it is much easier to put thought into it, and find something that is suitable and appreciated. 

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Vegan Mince Pies

Vegan Mincepies

Nothing says it’s Christmas time like mince pies. I’ll admit even with a reputation amongst my friends and family as a domestic goddess, with a small teething baby clinging to me last Christmas, it being our first vegan Christmas and having just moved house and only having half a kitchen and most of the cookware still in boxes, we did resort to just buying ready made pastry and a jar of mincemeat.

However, this year we wanted to have a go at making them, especially as my daughter is 2 now and loves to bake. Plus making them yourself means you know exactly what’s in them and there’s no unnecessary preservatives or excess sugar, it also gives you the option to add slightly more or less of particular ingredients to suit your tastes. We’ve made this recipe alcohol free as my daughter usually eats more of the baking she helps with than makes it to the oven, but you could add a few tablespoons of brandy if you’d like a grown up boozy treat!

The combination of apples, cranberries, raisins, orange and spices ticks all the festive boxes! This recipe is not only vegan but also soya, peanut and tree nut free, due to my children’s allergies to those ingredients. I’ve broken it down in to pastry and filling so if you only want to or only have time for one half you can use shop bought pastry (like Jusroll) or a jar of mincemeat from the supermarket (lots of them are accidently vegan)

The Mincemeat filling

  • 1 large Bramley apple
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries (45g)
  • ¼ cup currants (45g)
  • ⅓ cup raisins (55g)
  • ⅛ cup mixed peel (20g)
  • The zest & juice of one orange
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • ⅛ cup brown sugar (25g)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • 5 ground cloves
  1. Peel the Bramley apple and dice finely.
  2. Add all of the ingredients to a saucepan and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Making sure the apple is now soft and absorbed the spices and flavours.
  3. Remove for the heat as it’s ready to go in the pastry cases.

The Pastry

  • 85g vegan butter
  • 175g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp water
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Break apart butter into small pieces in large bowl.
  2. Add flour and mix together with fingers (or in a food processor) until a breadcrumb texture is formed. If you make your hands cold while doing this, just run wrists and hands under the cold tap beforehand, it will be easier to work the pastry. (Pastry and warm don’t go together.)
  3. Add salt and water then press together to form a dough. Be careful not over handle the dough.
  4. Form into a flat ball, cover with cling film and put in the fridge for 30 mins to rest.

The Pies

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200°C or 180°C fan.
  2. Lightly flour surface and roll out pastry.
  3. Using two different sized cutters (one medium one slightly smaller) cut out 12 smaller circles for the base and 12 larger circles or shapes (We used a star shaped cutter) for the lids.
  4. Place bases in your tray and spoon approx 1 tsp of the mincemeat filling into each pie. Make sure not to overfill them or they’ll spill over the sides.
  5. Cover with lids, pressing edges together with water.
  6. If using a circular cutter, pierce each lid with a fork to let air in. Brush with your plant milk of your choice, we used oat milk. You can also sprinkle a little brown or caster sugar on top of them for some festive sparkle and added crunch.
  7. Cook in the oven for 20-25 mins for the perfect golden brown colour.
  8. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy!