The Boston Tea Party is one of my favourite cafés to eat at in Birmingham, although the short walk from campus may have something to do with that!

It caters well for vegetarians and vegans, with its Birmingham branch's menu offering full breakfasts, portobello mushroom burgers (my favourite!) and super salads that make eating out as much parts healthy as it is enjoyable. They also change their menu to suit the seasons and offer a range of smoothies and cheap pots of tea.

Not only this; BTP is in fact a chain of cafés around the UK that uphold the view of adapting to their locality, as well as ethically sourcing its ingredients from around the UK. 80% of their producers hail from Bristol, where the first BTP café opened. The ideal that "being bigger is not always better" is something that I thought was impossible for businesses larger than independents, but BTP clearly embodies this well and it's for this reason that I highly recommend you check the place out. The staff are happy and helpful, the atmosphere relaxed and authentic - rare to find in a café so chic! - and the prices reasonable too.
I've been on a detox this week, and while TeenVGN is going for an all-out fruit and vegetable fest, I've been replacing dairy products with raw, plant-based milk alternatives as well. Why? On top of regular cows milk being high in saturated fat - almost 50% of it is pure fat - it's something we naturally shouldn't be drinking either, with lactose intolerance being insanely common - almost 65% of the world's population have trouble digesting lactose. And due to the way cows are treated both medically and on the majority of farms (I'd recommend watching Food Inc. if you want to know more), it's another factor that I'm against within the meat industry. All of this led up to me to standing the supermarket, debating which milk alternative is the best in terms of nutrients? So after fervent research, here are my findings:


ALMOND MILK
There's been quite a fuss about almond milk recently - it's easy to make at home, contains such a low amount of saturated fat and it also boasts a good amount of calcium as well as vitamins D and E, and other added ones in shop-bought almond milk. However, there is also the question of carrageenan being added to some shop-bought varieties, as well as in coconut milk, a stabiliser coming from red algae or seaweed that may cause digestive problems.

Ingredients: water, almond (2%), calcium (tri-calcium phosphate), sea salt, stabilisers (locust bean gum, gellan gum), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), vitamins (riboflavin (B2), B12, E, D2)

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                14 kcal
Carbohydrate      0.2g
of which sugars   0.1g
Fat                       1.2g
Saturated fat        0.1g
Protein                 0.5g
Salt                      0.13g
Fibre                    0.3g
Calcium              120mg (15% RDA)
Vitamin D            0.75µg (15% RDA)
Vitamin B2          0.21mg (15% RDA)
Vitamin B12        0.38µg (15% RDA)
Vitamin E            1.8mg (15% RDA)


COCONUT MILK
Coconut milk is great for the paleo diet, but it has a very high fat and especially saturated fat content in comparison to other milk alternatives, but as it comes from coconuts, one of the only plants to product saturated fat, it's not all bad. Saturated fat from coconuts contains a high amount of lauric acid, which increases high-density lipoprotein, the "good cholesterol". Nevertheless, it's recommended you watch your intake of it. Below I've looked at Koko's coconut milk, which contains added calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, making it a good alternative to cow's milk.

Ingredients: filtered water, coconut milk (8.4%), grape juice concentrate, calcium phosphate, emulsifier: sucrose ester, thickener: carrageenan, sea salt, vitamin D2, vitamin B12, colour: natural carotene

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 28 kcal
Carbohydrate      2.4g
of which sugars   2.1g
Fat                       1.9g
Saturated fat        1.7g
Protein                 0.3g
Salt                      0.1g
Fibre                    0.5g
Calcium              120mg (15% RDA)
Vitamin D            0.75µg (15% RDA)
Vitamin B12        0.38µg (15% RDA)


OAT MILK
In comparison to all of the other milk alternatives except soya, oat milk has an exceptionally high amount of protein. However, this is also true of its carbohydrate and sugar content, but considering it contains only water, oats and a little sea salt, it's pretty close to perfect in terms of all natural ingredients and even boasts beta-glucans, which help maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. The one part you may have to decide upon is whether you want it organic or not - as Oatly themselves have admitted, their organic version cannot contain added calcium or vitamins, therefore removing its ability to be a true milk alternative.

Ingredients: oat base (water, oats 10%), sea salt

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 35 kcal
Carbohydrate       6.5g
of which sugars   4g
Fat                       0.5g
Saturated fat        0.1g
Protein                1g
Salt                      0.1g
Fibre                    0.8g
Calcium               0mg
Beta-glucans       0.4g (30% RDA)


RICE MILK
Organic rice milk also suffers from the same lack of calcium and vitamins as organic oat milk; there is none without having them fortified, therefore removing its organic properties. Furthermore, its exceptionally high carbohydrate and natural sugars content in comparison to the other alternatives, and certain brands, such as Rice Dream, have added sunflower oil too.

Ingredients: water, rice (14%), sunflower oil, sea salt

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 47 kcal
Carbohydrate       9.4g
of which sugars   4.0g
Fat                       1.0g
Saturated fat        0.1g
Protein                 0.1g
Salt                      0.1g
Fibre                    0.1g
Calcium               0mg


SOYA MILK
Soya milk is the most popular milk alternative, based on its high protein content and (normally) added calcium and vitamin D. However if we're going all organic and non-GMO, these fortifications aren't possible, making it a poor competitor for being a milk alternative. Relative to the others listed here, it also is low in carbohydrates and fat.

Ingredients: water, hulled organic soya beans (5.9%), organic apple juice concentrate, sea salt

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy                 32 kcal
Carbohydrate       2.4g
of which sugars   2.4g
Fat                       1.7g
Saturated fat        0.3g
Protein                 3.0g
Salt                      0.14g
Fibre                    0.5g
Calcium               0mg


IS IT WORTH GOING ORGANIC?
In my research, I've looked at the organic alternatives where possible. I would encourage you to opt for organic, so long as you are not sacrificing the health properties of the drink (such as in Oatly's case); while it may not have substantial health benefits, it's essential we think of the production chain of our food, and the farmers and field workers who have to handle our food before being processed - these men and women have to come into contact with chemicals that we ourselves don't want to touch or ingest. And applying simple rules of economics, the more we demand organic products, the cheaper and more numerous they will become!

In my case, I'll be opting for unsweetened soya or almond milk with added calcium and vitamins when replacing cows' milk for now, but I'll keep my eyes peeled for a milk alternative that uses a combination of organic ingredients with fortified calcium and vitamins - please let me know if you come across one!





While in Paris, I had the chance to be introduced to pho, a popular type of Vietnamese noodle soup. On top of this, I was then guided through the bustling Asian district in the 13th arrondissement to a wonderfully authentic pho restaurant called Pho 14, which I fell in love with.

Having now come home to the UK to find an Asian supermarket snuggly tucked away two roads down from me, it's no surprise that I've attempted my own, vegetarian pho inspired by Pho 14, but this time as a wholly vegetarian affair, with mushrooms in a rich hoisin sauce to supplement the meaty taste, and salad onions with ginger for the broth to give it a spicy kick - luckily for us, these are all in season too! And as a little idea for my vegetarian folk, if you're stuck in a rut with the same vegetarian dishes, I'd highly recommend turning to Far Eastern cuisine, as meat is classically not as large a part of their diet as it is ours.



VEGETARIAN PHO

Serves: 2

1 litre water
2 vegetable stock cubes
1 tbsp grated ginger
4 salad onions
1 tsp cooking oil
1 tbsp butter
200g sliced chestnut mushrooms
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 wholewheat noodle nests
2 handfuls of beansprouts
1 handful of spinach leaves
+
1 lime
Sriracha sauce

  1. In a large sauce pan, pour in 1 litre of boiling water and plop in veggie stock cubes. Stir and keep on high heat
  2. Chop the salad onions, grate the ginger and add to broth. Once boiling, turn down to simmering and pop on the lid
  3. In a frying pan, melt butter over a medium heat (add a tiny bit of oil if you're unsure, as butter burns quickly and this will keep it from doing so!) and once frothy, add the sliced mushrooms to sauté, i.e. move them around in the butter every minute or so
  4. In a third pan, cook the two wholewheat noodle nests (no salt necessary as you'll be adding it to the broth)
  5. Wash the beansprouts - I find this best in a sieve - and leave to stand.
  6. Once the mushrooms have shrunk, add the hoisin sauce and turn down the heat to finish off cooking
  7. Once the noodles are ready, put into two bowls, pour the broth over them, then add the beansprouts by hand and mushrooms too 
  8. Serve with slices of lime and sriracha sauce if it's to your taste!

I hope you enjoy the recipe and let me know if you give it a go - it's a really tasty, if not a little naughty, meatless dish and takes a surprisingly small amount of time to make!


I've got a certain admiration for Burt's Bees - sticking to its 100% natural ethos, and prominently displaying the leaping bunny logo on all its products (meaning they're cruelty free), it's somehow managed to come up with authentic products that actually work too.

The lip shimmer that I recently bought was on more of a whim - I'd been aiming to buy tinted lip balm in Hibiscus, but I could only find the lip shimmer, so I plumped for Apricot and it's just lovely. Smooth to apply, tasting of mint with a slight tingle and no drying effect, I much prefer it to lipstick. The colour itself is a light shimmery coral and therefore subtle on the lips, but it does complete a full face of make-up (I normally prefer to only highlight my eyes with eye-liner). And what with winter approaching, it's a good way to keep your lips hydrated as well as on trend!

Burt's Bees itself is a great option if you're looking for natural beauty products that are available in high street stores - it's often stocked in Boots and Holland & Barrett (although the product lines do vary) and you can purchase it online too.