Hello lovelies! I hope you're all keeping well in this cold weather and looking forward to the New Year!

It's been a little while since I did a true "lifestyle" post to keep you updated on where I am on the ladder of healthy living, but it seems I've given in to temptation over the Christmas break and had one too many chocolates... but all is not lost! With 2015 around the corner, it's a prime opportunity to consider taking another step towards achieving a clean, mindful lifestyle.

I've always been a lover of clean starts, fresh notebooks, and the opportunity to create a new habit, however these haven't always gone to plan. I think what I've learnt so far is to not push too hard on anything: don't fall for the "new year, new you" adverts for expensive gym plans or restrict yourself to eating only a certain number of calories per day. Who knows where you'll be this time next month, let alone next year!

With all that said, there are a number of things I'd suggest taking a look at as a "healthy alternative" to a New Year's resolution. You can decide for yourself how far you'd like to take things day by day, and adapt these ideas to truly suit you - this way, you're far more likely to succeed.



FOR FITNESS FANS: 30 DAYS OF YOGA
I'll be posting a more in-depth blog about yoga soon, but for those of you already familiar with it or interested in starting, adopting a morning yoga routine will really keep you energised throughout the day and allow you to achieve more. Another positive about practicing yoga at home is that you can take it at your own pace, wear whatever you like and do it at whatever time of day suits you!

Recently, I've been using the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene, where the lovely Adriene Mishler and her behind-the-scenes team post free yoga classes to suit you - whether it be a morning routine, a specific type of yoga or something to fit with your mood, they have made it. In January, they will be releasing a 30 day yoga class, i.e. a video for every day of the month, along with motivational emails and the chance to connect with other yogis. This group mentality, along with the chance of starting something new at your own pace or improving on your existing practice, will make it a lot more fulfilling and will keep you motivated better than that spur of the moment gym pass.

To sign up for 30 Days of Yoga, which is operating on a donation basis, click here.


FOR HARD WORKERS: 10 MINUTE DAILY MEDITATION
Meditation seems to be gaining popularity, and for all the right reasons - with technology keeping our brains occupied in every free second, and higher demanding daily activities, connecting to your inner self is something that we've just about forgotten.

Keeping away from the spirituality usually associated with meditation is often pretty difficult, so I can understand if you've never tried it. I myself often need to practice and don't, so this will be one of my own personal goals in 2015 too. This is where Headspace comes in; available in application format or online, it provides just the right balance of guidance and the permission to zone out of the busy lives we lead to get you started on the ladder to practicing meditation for yourself. Following a 10-minute practice every morning can lead to lower anxiety levels, better emotional management and feeling more at peace (here's the science!), and considering the first ten lessons are free, there really is nothing to lose!

To find out more about Headspace or download the app, head over to their website here.


FOR FOODIES: YOUR LOCAL MARKET
If you enjoy food, whether it be growing it, cooking it or simply eating it, then I'm sure you would also love to get your hands on the freshest, most flavoursome and possibly even healthier ingredients right? By visiting your local market, you will be able to pick up seasonal and locally grown produce, ticking all of the above boxes, as well as supporting small entreprises and your community. It's a no-brainer really, but it does take a little bit of effort nowadays, considering supermarkets are around the corner no matter where you are. So in an effort to do a bit of good, to both yourself and for others too, find out where your nearest local market is, farmers' markets being especially good, and get yourself down there as and when you can. You'll be surprised at how cheap you can get certain items too!

For second city dwellers like myself, Birmingham offers a range of different markets all held just outside of the Bullring; to find out more, head over to the City Council's website.


FOR HEALTH: EAT MINDFULLY
If you're already feeling itchy under your sweater after all those Christmas treats and want to give weight loss a go, I'd suggest also researching a little into eating mindfully before starting any rash diets. This is a concept I've only recently come across, and am reading about currently, after being gifted the book "Mindful Eating", but I already fully support the rationale: to eat mindfully is to keep a link between your body and your mind while considering food options. We often eat sugary treats for the flavour, not the nutrients. The same goes for main meals too, or for other bad habits such as skipping breakfasts or snacking during the day. Remaining mindful, a Buddhist practice of staying conscious of your surroundings and decisions, while dealing with food is another lesson that we could all do with - especially me and my sweet tooth!

If you're not quite ready to purchase the book or would simply like some pointers so as to curb those festive bad habits you've picked up, I'd suggest giving the awfully pretty website a peruse and reading the free PDF available from the authors here.


FOR ECO-WARRIORS: COMPOSTING AT HOME
If its nature you're more concerned about, then how about put me to shame and start composting at home. It's something I think about every time I throw away the scraps of fresh produce that I've not used in cooking, but unfortunately my little flat, while able to support a kitchen composter, doesn't have a designated area for that compost to go - no food waste bins, no local park looking for fresh dirt.

So, for all of you with gardens, or with compost solutions at hand, I'd suggest looking into the composting procedure and going that bit further with your recycling while helping your back garden ecosystem too! It really does seem easy once you look into it, and it's a great step into a low-impact lifestyle too.

To start on your green mulch mission, head on over to the Recycle Now website for its composting guide.



Please let me know if you do decide to adopt one of these ideas on entering 2015, or if you have a better idea - comment with it below! I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.

And to all of you who have supported my blog and its little green shoots branching out into the healthy living side of the world wide web, I'd like to say thank you so much, and I hope you have a great New Year, all 365 days of it! See you on the other side guys!
Coming from a family that enjoys its meatier treats, my first Christmas dinner as a vegetarian was left down to me to organise. Individual meals are often harder to prepare, on the basis that the majority of fresh produce will be bought in bulk and seeing as I'd rather cook my own meal from scratch, it also needs to be a minimal size in the oven so as not to clash with the roast potatoes/parsnips/Yorkshire puds etc.

This led me to one conclusion: a pie. A crispy, shortcrust pastry pie with hearty winter vegetables and thick brown gravy. As it's Christmas, I've stuck to richer ingredients too, and kept it simple: any kitchen should have these ingredients as standard. If you're going to put the pie with other Christmas treats, such as the Brussel sprouts, carrots, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, vegetarian stuffing and asparagus that I had, I'd suggest saving half for leftovers on Boxing Day!



HEARTY WINTER VEGETABLE PIE
Serves: 1

Shortcrust pastry:
200g flour
100g butter
Pinch of salt
4 tbsp water
+
1lb bread loaf tin

Filling:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion
8 chestnut mushrooms
1 small carrot
1 small potato
2 tbsp dried mixed herbs
250ml water
3 tbsp vegetarian gravy granules

  1. Start off by making your shortcrust pastry dough: sieve the flour into a large bowl and slice up room-temperature butter into fine cubes. 
  2. Plunge your hands into the bowl and firmly rub the mixture between your fingers to create breadcrumbs. If you find large chunks remain, shake the bowl to bring the lumps to the surface.
  3. Once breadcrumbs have been formed, slowly add little amounts of water so as to stick the mix together into a dough. Roll the ball around the bowl and add a little flour to its sticky surface, then wrap in clingfilm so as to preserve its freshness.
  4. Now onto the filling: cube all of your ingredients and slice the mushrooms.
  5. In a pan, heat the oil and then fry all the vegetables; add the dried mixed herbs and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Set your oven to 200 C and leave to preheat.
  7. During the remaining time, lightly grease the bread tin and roll out your dough on a floured surface. Cold hands and a floured rolling pin make this easier.
  8. Line the tin with two thirds of the dough, leaving a large amount around the edges. The pastry will shrink in the oven so this prevents it from spilling out.
  9. Now make up your gravy in a jug and add to the pan. Take off the heat and pour into the lined tin.
  10. Wet the dough along the sides of the tin using a brush and milk or whisked egg yolk and place your remaining rolled out dough on top so as to make a lid.
  11. Slice off any overhanging dough, still leaving at least 2cm along the edges to prevent leaking filling.
  12. (Optional) use any remaining dough as decorations - I chose to do little leaves!
  13. Pop in the oven for 25 minutes to bake, or until the lid is golden brown.
If you're looking for fussier but also healthier meal over the winter period, I'd also suggest taking a look at The Cordon Vert's Christmassy recommendation - Smoky Leek and Hazelnut Tart.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you a happy, healthy New Year too!
Last month I visited the Food Market at the wonderful Midlands Arts Centre in Edgbaston, Birmingham and spoke to the local stallholders there, where local, healthy produce is being championed. As it's coming up to its December market (Sunday 21st for those interested), I wanted to post about a new discovery I made while there: Kombucha tea.

Kombucha tea is made up of a bacteria and yeast culture that is added to tea leaves and sugar to create a unique culture (based on the type of tea) which releases organic acids, vitamins - notably vitamin B and C - and enzymes. The drink is often ingested as a form of detox, working well with the body's natural bacteria and is reported to help with a variety of ailments too, which is unsurprising coming from a raw, organic base.

Taking it a step further, the speciality teas that I tasted at The Happy Gut Hut stand at the Food Market come with a fruity twist. Alyn, the owner and tea brewer, brought six different flavours that started with the kombucha base and were infused with fresh fruit to create a delicious cool drink! Stepping away from the original, slightly bitter taste, the juices were exotic and well-balanced, with the cantaloupe melon, lemon grass and lime flavour being my favourite (I'm crazy for anything melon!). I ended up taking away a bottle which I drank over the next two days, as it's not to be consumed all in one go, but it also doesn't last for a long time due to the pre-started fermentation process.

I'd like to add here a personal thank you to Alyn for introducing me to the drink and its deep-rooted links with well-being too. Keep up the good work!

Sources: Seeds of Health  -  The Happy Gut Hut  -  MAC Birmingham

While the wintry evenings are getting colder and colder, we don't have to stick to veggie soup! At the Birmingham Food Market there's been a recent influx of asparagus, something I've rarely cooked with but really do enjoy the flavour of. I picked up a bunch and decided to pair it with local, in-season mushrooms and create this delicious risotto. Give it a go when you fancy something warming, stodgy and different - it's also gluten-free!



VEGETARIAN ASPARAGUS + MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Serves: 4

1.2 litres water
2 vegetable stock cubes
2 tbsp oil
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
2 courgettes
100g mushrooms
8 asparagus stems
1 tbsp black pepper
350g arborio rice
30g butter
40g cheese, grated

  1. Slice up all of the vegetables as you like - finely cut or chunky. For the asparagus, take both ends in either hand and snap - this will ensure only the fresh part is used
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan, pour in freshly boiled water from the kettle and add your stock cubes. Stir to dissolve
  3. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add onion, keeping on a high heat until it turns translucent
  4. Now add your minced garlic and sliced mushrooms and fry on a lower heat for a few minutes or until the mushrooms have sufficiently shrunk
  5. Pour the arborio rice into the mix, stirring to ensure every grain is coated
  6. Now add the rest of your veggies and stir again. Sprinkle in the black pepper
  7. Using a ladle or cup, gradually add the stock from the other pan, ensuring absorption before the next ladleful. Continue stirring and adding stock over a medium heat for 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked
  8. Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese until it reaches a sticky consistency
  9. Then serve up in little bowlfuls, depending on your appetite! It's surprisingly filling!


On the journey to a healthy lifestyle and diet, I've already given up fast-food and meat, but snacking is still one of my biggest challenges. So when Nothing But.'s snack box* turned up on my doorstep, I was really intrigued - could these be the replacement I've been looking for?

The packs themselves are styled to look like crisps, but the contents is surprisingly versatile! Nothing But. takes fresh fruit and vegetables - beetroot and parsnip, mange tout and red pepper, and grape and pineapple were the flavours I tried - and freezes them, one of the best ways of maintaining nutrients, and then evaporates the water content. This makes for crunchy, flavoursome snacks that I found really handy when on the go, as well as with my packed lunch at University and snacking while writing an essay at home.

So, how do they measure up? My favourite, the sliced beetroot and parsnip version, was a pretty great replacement to crisps, with the same crunch and strong flavour too. The fruity grape and pineapple one also felt almost too good to be healthy too - and yet it was one of my five a day! Seeing as they are 100% natural fruit and vegetables, they're suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs too.

Nothing But. is also a headline sponsor for Vegetarian Society's National Vegetarian Week 2015!

*Please note that this product was kindly gifted to me to review.