During the second morning of my brief and beautiful visit to Macdonald Monchique in Algarve, Portugal, I was taken to the local mountain village, Caldas de Monchique. As soon as we'd arrived, I was spellbound - there was so much to take in. The bright greens of the trees, the fresh scent of the giant eucalyptus trees, and the sound of running mineral water that the area is renowned for.

Our tour guide from the hotel was brilliant, explaining how the locals collected the water from a constantly flowing tiny tap, and believed it to be the fountain of youth. Above the tap someone had chalked 'Don't waste a minute of your life, when your life can be over in a minute', which is perhaps the key to eternal youth...

On our way around the village, we found a carob tree growing along the stream, and I got to hold a carob bean in my hand - which was strange, considering I'd only ever eating it as a powder! We also learnt about the history of the village, and the local tea house, a stripy oriental affair that contrasted so well with the organic lines of the forest around us.

In the evening, my friend and I snuck back to the village for a final peek before our last day. Lit by only a few lights, it was a little daunting at first, but once we'd found a spot amongst the leaves and cobblestones it was a glorious place to sit and revel in the greenery.

The biggest thing this tiny town represented to me was an escape away from the city and from screens. In my day-to-day life, I love both of these things - I live on them! The buzz of London has been an obsession of mine since I was a kid, and computers have always fascinated me - they give us so many opportunities to learn, write, document... But in Caldas de Monchique, I was transported to an age and place where neither of these things mattered, and it felt incredibly peaceful.

If you're ever in the area, I would highly recommend visiting the town and enjoy its health-giving water, writing, and serenity!
So, I think I’ve finally got this travelling malarky down. I think. (As I wrote this on the train, I whizzed past my stop… so, maybe not!) For the most part though, I’m quite good at staying calm while travelling - I know how to pack light, I know how much time to give myself, and I know how to stay sane when my transport is late and I’m going to miss my connection…

It all comes down to preparation. I think that’s the key to most things in life: how to eat well, how to get into a fitness routine, and how to travel well too. I couldn’t go without these 10 essentials, and they’re actually really simple to organise in advance.

1. TIME
It might not be a tangible thing, but time is my best travel buddy. It’s like a free luxury - if I get to a train station or airport early, I find myself more relaxed when waiting for my transport, and I’ll enjoy dipping in and out of the shops and foodie places making rational decisions. It means I won’t pick up a meal deal and instead go for a salad because I’ve got time to eat it, or I can pull out my KeepCup and get a mocha rather than grabbing a wasteful cardboard cup that you can’t recycle.

2. WATER
This should really be a given, seeing as I need water all day every day, but it took me a long while before I got into a good routine with a water bottle. Travelling fatigues my mind really quickly - in fact, I recently heard about decision fatigue when travelling, which is when you’re making so many quick decisions on the go that it really tires you out. My mind is always a-buzz: which escalator, which tube line, which platform, which carriage, which seat, which stop, which exit… so keeping your brain topped up with water will help you make better decisions, prevent headaches, and generally stop you from feeling crappy.

3. MUSIC
Whether its my commute to work, a quick hop on the tube, or a short-haul flight, having access to my favourite music and new albums makes it so much more fun. If you’ve got the cash, I’d really recommend getting Spotify - I’ve got playlists for every mood (Beach House for when I’m sleepy, Mac Demarco for when I’m smily, and Spotify’s Throwback Thursday for when I want a bit of nostalgia).

4. SKINCARE
This is a biggy for me. Lip balm is an absolute essential. I couldn’t live without a glide of Dr. Hauschka Lip Care Stick in the morning, and top-ups during the day. Now that the weather is colder, this is especially necessary: dry hot air inside and cold bitter air outside will dry my lips out in an instant.

For longer journeys, such as my recent weekend away to Portugal, I took along Day Cream and Night Cream from Skincere, as well as coconut oil for wiping away makeup on the go and all its other beauty uses. And of course, for sun holidays, I wouldn't ever be without my Green People Sun Lotion.

5. HAIRCARE
Similarly on my last trip, I really appreciated having travel sized haircare from John Masters Organics. These whizzed through airport security without a problem and meant I could stay away from hotel freebies with SLS in, keeping my hair bouncy and shiny.

6. BATTERY LIFE
No-one likes a dead phone, but I especially dislike a dead phone/camera/laptop when travelling. On my way back from Amsterdam earlier in the year our train got stuck on the line for five hours and if I hadn’t had my laptop on charge (and free wifi from the amazing Thalys train) I think I would have gone mad. Despite having recently upgraded to an iPhone 6s, I’m in the market for a good portable charger to keep me toped up on the go. If you’ve got any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

7. HOMEMADE FOOD
Going hand-in-hand with time, food is another essential. For most trips, I’ll make something in advance - perhaps a quinoa salad or a smoothie. This, coupled with the opportunity to make mindful decisions for travel snacks, means I know I’m comfortable if I ever get hungry on the go.

8. MONEY
I know it’s an everyday essential, but growing up in a family that never bought anything on flights, trains, even car rides meant that I spent a long time going without things that would make me happier and more comfortable travelling. I’m not advocating mindless consumerism (no-one needs a cuddly EasyJet toy) but if I find myself in a sticky situation, I know I’ve got cash there to get me through it. So far, missing a connection in Brussels meant I could buy dinner and adequate supplies for staying the night in a hotel, and having crazy terminal changes in Istanbul airport meant that I could pick up a sandwich while waiting for my flight, something none of the other passengers did in their panic.

9. RESEARCH
Most of the time, when I go somewhere I won’t be there for long. Be it Cambridge, Amsterdam, or Paris, I’ve always carried out some form of research in advance. Pocket travel books are my favourite - I ended up reading one cover-to-cover before my trip to Amsterdam and had a lot of fun pointing out places to my boyfriend as we went around the city. It also meant I knew exactly how to plan my time, and the best places for vegetarian food, vintage finds, and where to rent a bike.

10. PATIENCE
The golden rule. I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of patience, but it does prevent me from getting in sticky situations. After so much time travelling around, I know I’ll get to my destination no matter what happens, so instead of queuing for check-in for hours, I’ll sit on a bench and wait until the queue has gone through before I do - it means I’m more calm, and can make better use of my time. When a flight touches down, I’ll wait for most people to get off - save my adrenal glands from any extra stress. It makes a lot of sense, but it does take a bit of willpower to stop my itchy feet from wanting to run ahead!

Earlier in the week I visited Macdonald Monchique in the Algarve, Portugal. It was unbelievably perfect. For most of my first day, I was pinching myself wondering if someone had gotten me and Beyonce mixed up!

I'd never been to Portugal before, but if those four days are anything to go on, Portugal is one of the most beautiful and friendliest countries in the world. We flew to Faro airport, in the south of the country, and were then taken into the hills, where Macdonald's Resort & Spa is situated. It was pitch black as we pulled in, so waking up the morning after to bright sunshine and the incredible views were a real surprise! No wonder they call it the Garden of the Algarve.

Macdonald Monchique is a five-star resort and spa specialising in wellness, with a focus on sustainability too. The place is built into the mountainside in a way that preserves the local ecology, sloping and twisting to match the rock face. It also takes advantage of the naturally alkaline mineral water in the area, coming from a spring in the nearby village, Caldas de Monchique. With it being over 9 PH, it's quite a rare water and is perfect for recovering after a workout.

Speaking of workouts... On my first morning I went to the Zen Room for a HIIT workout, and boy by the end did I hurt in places I didn't know could hurt! After the session I had a worthwhile bite to eat in one of their three restaurants, where the waiters were fully-briefed on my diet preferences (vegetarian) and were so helpful in taking me through the menu, and customising meals where I wanted (if you're a bit afraid of doing this, here's my guide to eating out as a vegetarian).


Afterwards, I headed down to the Sensorial Spa... definitely more my kind of wellness! I was treated to a full body massage which used Monchique Cosmetics, their own brand using the local mineral water and natural ingredients, and then completed a Thermal Circuit. This was a beautifully new, peaceful place, and there was so much to choose from: a Himalayan rock salt sauna, aroma steam room (my favourite scent was Finnish birch), foot baths, igloo, jacuzzis and two pools, too. I say pools; the outdoor one was technically out of service and the heating was off to preserve energy, but I still gave it a very brave-faced dip!

I have to admit, I also headed back to the spa again on the Sunday for a De-sensitiser Facial and Pink Hair Mask, using products from the ESPA International range, which is made from natural, sustainable, and ethically sourced ingredients. The brand is also cruelty-free, is suitable for vegetarians, and only uses animal-derived beeswax, honey, keratin, and sodium lactate. I'll be honest, keratin is on my list of ingredients I avoid, but ESPA sustainably sources it from sheep's wool during shearing season.


On the final morning, we wondered into the grounds and found the yoga cabin, nestled among the trees smelling of eucalyptus and pollen. While it was out of action during my stay, I'm told it'll be up and open soon, alongside a menu for vegetarians and vegans, and a smoothie using local madrono berries - if you get a chance to go when this is all up and running, please let me know how good it is!

I was kindly gifted my stay at Macdonald Monchique by Macdonald Hotels (full disclaimer).


I love that we live in a world where coconut oil is considered a kitchen essential. I've been a convert for a long time, but it's the many beauty uses of coconut oil that actually make it a bathroom essential for me.

While I'm in Portugal, I thought it would be good to post about my favourite travel items, and I always make sure to have a trusty mini pot of Vita Coco Extra Virgin Coconut Oil with me. It might not be your conventional time of year for a sun holiday (I'll be honest, I can't sunbathe for more than a few minutes before getting itchy to go and do something else) but I know I'll need the oil in one way or another over this long weekend away.

Here's why coconut oil is my versatile best travel buddy...

MOISTURISE ALL OVER
I hate taking along all my lotions and potions on journeys abroad. For the slightly more precious products, I worry that they'll break or explode during transit, so coconut oil is my favourite alternative. I can use it as a moisturiser and facial oil before makeup, drop a little in the bath for a hydrating soak, and also apply it after shaving to get shiny and smooth legs.

SWIPE AWAY MAKEUP
Holidays mean a little less time spent getting ready for bed and a little more time partying! Even on weekends, I get a little lax if I'm to remove my makeup after midnight. Coconut oil is my go-to for a quick swipe and sleep - I usually take a little on a muslin cloth (or cotton ball in a squeeze) after cleansing and wipe away all traces of my makeup. It's especially good for removing my waterproof natural mascara.

TAME HUMIDITY
My hair is pretty much a lion's mane even without humidity. The last time I went and sat down at the hairdressers (organic salon Natural Colour Works is my go to), I asked the lovely Kimberleigh to take as much weight out of my hair as possible, and my new shorter and lighter locks need a little oil in the ends to keep them in tip-top condition. Coconut oil does in a pinch - I always take a little and heat it between my palms before applying to damp hair. The scent and shine are just lovely!

PERFUME GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT
My final and new-found discovery is using coconut oil as a quick scent top-up. It might not have the staying power of synthetic perfumes, but it does have a lovely sweet and tropical scent. Make sure you pick extra virgin coconut oil, as the lower grades (normally simply called 'coconut oil') don't have the same smell.

This post is sponsored by Vita Coco.

Veggie or not, seafood is either something you love or hate. Personally, I'm not a massive fan; I can do with my two spirulina tablets* in the morning, but you'll have to pass me a big glass of water to get them down!

So, when I came across I Sea Pasta*, I have to be honest, I was nervous. What really swung it in my favour was its sustainability and health benefits (and the fact that veggie food at Yo Sushi is actually pretty tasty). Organically harvested in Ireland, it's a relatively local, natural alternative to spaghetti, and it's obviously vegan and gluten-free too.

For nutrition, it also trumps regular pasta. High in fibre, potassium, calcium, vitamin c, iron, and iodine, it's much better for digestion, and always veggies have a range of nutrients that do a range of things rather than sticking with starchy wheat.

That being said, you will have to enjoy the taste of seaweed to really enjoy this. When cooking it up, it will smell intensely like the sea, and while the smell is stronger than its taste,

I also really struggled with nori when I first tried it, and while I've since found a few flavours of nori that I like, I really have to be in the mood for it. Whenever that strikes you, why not try my seaweed noodles recipe?



NORI NOODLES
Serves 1

20g I Sea Pasta
Handful of cherry tomatoes
Two sheets of nori
Sprinkle of seeds
Splash of soy sauce


  1. To cook the pasta, pour boiling water into a jug, and place your seaweed pasta in it to soak for 20 minutes
  2. In the meantime, slice your tomatoes and nori. I really like Itsu's Crispy Seaweed Thins in Sweet Soy & Sea Salt Flavour, and they go all melty when placed on hot noodles
  3. Once the pasta has cooked, fork it out and put into a bowl, throwing over the rest of your ingredients. If you're anti-soy sauce, I've found The Coconut Company's Organic Coconut Amino Sauce a great option.
  4. Enjoy!
Okay, if you haven't already tried face masks, I urge you to get one on the go. I can't believe I spent so many years without them - especially during my teens, when my skin would have really benefitted. Let's not even talk about the fact that I knew nothing of the cleanse, tone, moisturise ritual...

Seeing as I'm a little more well-informed now, and a self-proclaimed green skincare junkie, I've been trying out all sorts of face masks over the last month to find the best ones for the winter weather. The benefit of a facemask is paramount now the colder weather is setting in; you'll keep your skin plump, clean, and refreshed from the bitter cold breeze and dry indoor heat.

As with all my skincare recommendations, the first part is down to you: identify what type of skin you have, and what you want to improve. For me, that's keeping my sensitive skin hydrated, and I know I have to drinking a lot of water and have a balanced diet to really achieve that alongside the products I use.

SAVE
My first recommendation is a cheapy but a goody. The Natural Spa Factory makes a range of face masks, and my favourite has been their Bilberry & Chamomile Peel Off Mask*. The sachet is just £6 for 30g and does two generous-sized face masks, perfect for a quick pick-me-up. It smells subtly of berries, and goes from a light purple powder into a paste with a little water and mixing. I found my skin reacted well to the gentle ingredients and I loved how the paste thickened up thanks to the algae in it.



SPEND
While a one-off face mask is great, personally I prefer using something once or twice a week. A good mid-range option is REN Skincare's Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask* which comes in at £32 for 50ml. The glycolactic properties come from fruits such as pineapple, passion fruit, and lemon, to decongest and remove dead skin cells. This will last you a long while - I've been using mine twice a week and there's still so much to go.

The mask smells peachy, and is an orange gel that you apply to your face and then wipe off with the cloth provided for soft and bright skin.


SPLURGE
Okay, this is the crowning glory of face masks. Balance Me's new Collagen Boost Restore and Replenish Overnight Repair Face Mask* is hands down my favourite winter face mask and its price reflects that, at £50 for 50ml. Made with a range of plant oils, aloe vera, and Vitamin E, it leaves my face plump and perfect after every use.

This mask is applied slightly differently to the rest too. After sitting with it on your skin for 15 minutes, you daub whatever hasn't been absorbed off with a cloth and then sleep in it, giving you maximum absorption time and maximum hydration. I'll be sad when I get to the end of this one!
What is hygge? I have an inkling that this will be the latest buzzword in the world of wellness, so I thought it would be good to stay ahead of the curve and find out what it means, and how to adopt it into my lifestyle.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish word that roughly translates into English as "a frame of mind free of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming, finding pleasure from the presence of soothing and gentle things". I learnt this from Helen Russell during her talk at Stylist Live; Helen is a journalist and author who moved to Denmark and found their culture to be incredibly different to her native British one, with a better work-life balance, design-led consumption, and blunt honesty all making it the happiest nation on earth.

The meaning of hygge leaves quite a lot open to interpretation, and yet it feels more personal than mindfulness. The gist of it is the feeling of contentment, which can only come from stepping away from what keeps our eyes, hands, and minds busy, and taking stock of what we've got. It also links to nature, whether it's a walk in the park, gardening, appreciating your houseplants, or eating big simple fresh meals, it's all hygge.

What I really like about the concept is that it grounds all the actions I currently feel are not my most productive. I used to turn to knitting when watching television, as it kept my hands busy and away from snacks and double-screening. It's almost paradoxical; overthinking moments that need no thinking at all.

Moments in which I find my hygge are varied: sometimes it's a long hot bath, or when I light candles around my bed; sometimes it's cooking dinner with friends, or clasping a hot cup of cocoa at Borough Market amongst the wild greenery as in the above photo. Whatever warms your heart, gives you a moment of headspace - that's hygge.
My  hair and I have not always been the best of friends. Despite never going peroxide blonde (love) or to-within-an-inch-of-my-life short (not so much love), I've been through a lot of styles over the years. I've gone from plaited "tangle-fairy" long hair as a girl, to a mushroom bob aged 15, then a reddish brunette style with a big straight fringe, and back to a air-whippingly-sharp French plait during my Paris days... It's been fun. But my latest style, and the products I put in it, feel like I've finally found hair nirvana.

HAIRDRESSERS
Firstly, a moment of gratefulness to my hairdressers, Natural Colour Works. Having originally gone when my friend and fellow blogger Sara worked there, I still return to get my hair done there as they use some high-quality, natural products that make every visit feel like a true pamper session. They also do a great job in styling my thick mop - last time I went I asked for a daring cut, getting rid of all the excess weight in my hair and bringing it up to my neckline. I walked out with bouncy hair, voluminous roots, and a real weight off my shoulders.

SHAMPOO
On to the products that are winter-proofing my locks. For shampoo, I've been flitting between Duck + Dry's Up Up and Away Shampoo* and Avalon Organic's Volumising Rosemary Shampoo. Can I just say, while the rosemary shampoo smells good, the Duck + Dry one smells amazing. I seriously want that scent as a perfume. On top of that, both are SLS-free, so they don't strip away all the oils that keep hair healthy. If you make the switch, you'll find that they both take a lot more elbow grease to get frothy and through all your hair, but it's really worth it; now I only ever clean the hair at the top of my scalp when shampooing, and the oils have found a healthy balance.

CONDITIONER
Conditioner-wise, I use Duck + Dry's Up Up and Away Conditioner*, which I smooth along the tips of my hair while showering. Again, it smells awesome, and it does a good job keeping my hair shiny. I don't use it every time I wash my hair as I find it's almost too much for my hair to handle, instead going for once a week and using a 10 pence piece amount at most.

OIL
For all times other than when I condition my hair, I'll add in Pure Argan Oil* from Sheabutter Cottage after I've towelled off. I only ever need one drop (trust me, one drop really is enough), which I spread between my palms before scrunching into the tips, and then blow dry. This has really prevented my hair from developing split ends, which is quite the miracle considering I curl my hair with straighteners almost every day. It was also brilliant during the summer, keeping humidity at bay.

And that's it! That's all I use to keep my hair in check. It's really quite a simple selection of products, and they all work really well alongside each other. A few other tips: when I curl my hair, I don't ever spray anything to keep it in place, preferring a slow tumble out through the day. And finally, I always, always listen to my scalp. Over time, I've gone from washing my hair every other day to washing twice to three times per week, as the natural oil production has slowly decreased. It's the best.

Have you ever found yourself in my often-experienced lunch predicament? One or two lunchtimes per week you'll find me pacing the high street contemplating how healthy I can make my lunch within one hour and with the spare change in my pocket. So far, I've flitted between cafés, supermarkets, and salad bars, but have never seen anything like what Vita Mojo is offering, so I thought I'd share my experience there!

I popped into the St Paul's store a little while ago and I'm not going to lie, at first I did wonder whether I'd walked into an Apple Store or a salad bar. The principle concept is to order your food at the iPad station, or even do it in advance and run on down to the store afterwards to pick up your order. In some ways, this is super convenient, and it means you don't have to queue in the limited space in front of the tills.

Looking through the Vita Mojo website, you can build your lunch box with as little or as much food as you like, and suiting your diet and tastes completely. I went for an regular-sized dish, plumping for the sweet potato mash (how could I resist?) with polenta, falafel, quinoa and black rice salad, cashew nuts, and a little baba ganoush dressing.

Sadly, technology often has a way of being over efficient. After I'd placed my order, the system cleared everything I'd asked for so that my receipt was the only place that showed what I'd chosen. I ended up having a laugh with the woman behind the counter and had to go through everything with her verbally. The box came out and I grabbed a juice too (it was nice to see Press juices there), although not before handing over £11. A little bit too expensive for a single lunch for myself...

Upon eating my food, I found the felafel to be cold and hard, but the polenta, quinoa and black rice salad, and sweet potato mash were delicious. Normally if I'm not a massive fan of something, I don't review it, but I think Vita Mojo has stumbled upon a new concept of ordering food that really works for today's healthy foodies. The menu is full of great dishes, ranging from high-protein options to low-carb salads, and with a lower price point and better overall service, it could be a really good place to eat.


I'm finally getting back into reading. It's been far, far too long. I think university left me fatigued - I spent four years reading books on business, economics, and a good portion of those were in French. It's not a criticism; I would go back and repeat those four years in a heartbeat, but it has meant that my reading mojo has been all over the place since graduating in July last year.

One year on and I've gone from forcing myself through non-fiction health and eco-friendly books (see The Microbiome Solution and Zero Waste Home) to dabbling with a few at a time. This is something I used to do growing up, and it'd drive my mum crazy. I'd switch from one fiction book to the next, picking up factual articles inbetween. I still feel sad for not continuing my bookworm habits, but in this day and age there's only so much information you can consume at a time, and most of mine comes from online.

The moments when I'm taking a break from screens I really do cherish however. Snuggled up in bed in the morning or evening, they act like a buffer to the blue-light sleep-zapping gloom of my iPhone. Here's what's on my nightstand, and what I think of the books so far...

THE HEALTHY LIFE
I touted Jessica Sepel's The Healthy Life* as one of my favourite healthy books in the Spring of this year, and I've come back to it again and again. The book shows you easy steps in improving your wellness (that's mind, body, and soul) and is bespoke in the fact that you write down your goals, identify what changes are possible for you, and review them. There's also some really great recipes and ideas in the book that I've folded corners down to come back to in the future.

BLOOM
I picked this book up at Stylist Live last month, as a guilty-pleasure read for my inner blogging fangirl. I first started following Estée Lalonde when she hit 1,000,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel (yeah, I was really late to that party) and I've loved the way she's grown from cute, newbie Essie Button into confident, glamorous Estée. I decided to delve into her story by reading Bloom, and so far I have to say I have mixed views. There's some really interesting insights into her life, her relationships, and her love of blogging, but I'm finding the editorial decision to leave her life stories in a half-baked, quickly-written blog style quite offputting. I find myself picking holes in the way things are written rather than learning her life lessons, but I've still got quite a lot of the book to go so I have hope!

THE LESSER BOHEMIANS
This book is on the other side of the scale when it comes to literature. The Lesser Bohemians is an illegitimate love story wrapped up in the world view of a new Londoner and written in jarring prose that is so deliberately stop-start-stop-start that it makes me smile and frown simultaneously. Every time I pick the book up I find I have to really concentrate for the first 10 minutes or so to get into it, and then I'm flowing along with the story, dashing between inner monologues to speech to beautiful fragmented descriptions of the city I've come to know and love. I picked this up after realising Eimear McBride wrote A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which was being shown as a play at The Young Vic theatre in Waterloo.

#GIRLBOSS
My final book on the list is not to be confused as the least worthy, in fact I've probably learnt more from this than the rest of them so far! #Girlboss is Nasty Gal Founder Sophia Amoruso's first book, and it details the trials and tribulations she went through to go from eBay shop owner to CEO of a multi-million dollar fashion store. I've been listening to her podcast series Girlboss Radio for a while now, and realised that while my ambitions aren't exactly aligned with hers, I would love to have her as a mentor and that her book will do for now!

Natural nail polish. Does it exist? It's a question I've been asking for months years and has caused me to yo-yo between glossy colours and going without for a long time. Well, I'm delighted to say that I think I've finally found the answer!

WHAT'S WRONG WITH CONVENTIONAL NAIL POLISH?
When I was a little girl, my sister and I used to get our dad to paint our nails (coincidentally he also plaited our hair into little sticky out braids for every school disco until one year we realised that 90's Gwen Stefani vibe just wasn't cutting it any more). We would sit at the kitchen table and patiently watch him goop nail polish on our tiny finger nails, refraining from sitting forward too much so as not to breathe in those chemical fumes.

Because I'd grown up with it, it took a long time for me to realise how weird this was. Why was I applying toxic-smelling paint to my finger nails, when it was something I'd been told not to breathe in? And why was I systematically removing it with even stronger-smelling remover, only to rip up my nails underneath, necessitating a hasty repetition of the whole process?

In the end, it all comes down to ingredients. As my 25 Beauty Ingredients to Avoid list advocates, you should always check the label, and in the case of nail polishes, you should be avoiding these three like the plague:

Formaldehyde: Before discovering it was in nail polish, I only ever knew of formaldehyde in conjunction with dead bodies and Damien Hirst's shark. Rated a 10 on the EWG's toxicity scale, it is a known human carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer in the body.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): Another long, scientific word, but this was used in nail polishes for a long time before it was discovered to be an endocrine disruptor, meaning it has unpredictable negative effects on the human body. The EU banned this some years ago from both cosmetics and children's toys.

Toulene: This is what gives nail polish its really funky smell. It's predominantly used as paint thinner, so you can see why it would be so useful in keeping nail polish fresh, but it adversely affects the central nervous system and also could cause reproductive problems.

WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE?
Thankfully, there are alternatives. If you're already into organic beauty sites like LoveLula, you'll have found three-free nail polish brands a-plenty. While their status isn't independently certified, it does mean you don't have to even glance at the label on the back to know that the following brands are cleaner than conventional polishes:

Benecos
Butter London
Fnug
Kure Bazaar
Little Ondine
Maggie Anne
Nailberry
NATorigin
Priti NYC
RMS Beauty
SpaRitual
Zoya

However, what you will still find in these might not be great. Despite nails being a harder exterior than skin and therefore less absorbent, I'm still wary of ingredients such as polymers, silicones, camphor, and more. You may be able to find four-, five- and even six-free (camphor, formaldehyde resin, and thiamine triphosphate being the other prohibited ingredients).

Recently though, I've been obsessed with Little Ondine's water-based polishes. Their line uses under 10 ingredients to create a long-lasting nail polish that can be applied in exactly the same way, but does not smell at all and can be peeled off rather than removed with ethyl acetate. Their polishes still contain triethanolamine, which is an allergen, but I'm finding them incredibly gentle on my nails.

In the top photo I'm wearing a base and top coat of Secret and one coat of Red Red Wine, which turns a deep burgundy colour if you go in for two coats. So far, they've lasted my a good five days without tearing, but you do have to be careful when applying otherwise you can end up peeling a whole nail off when you're aiming for a tiny fleck on your skin. I know I'll be sticking with this colour and brand over the winter months, as it's so easy to use and so much kinder on my nails!
Speedy mushroom rarebit with walnut and quinoa salad
Let's be real here, this is an incredibly classy cheese on toast. Swapping out the bread for mushrooms, pairing it with a quinoa salad, sprinkling in some walnuts... I was really treating myself when I made this for myself last Saturday afternoon.

The recipe comes from Riverford's new Vegetarian Quick Box*. The box comes with two meals' worth of organic food, as well as seasonal recipe cards that are quite easy to follow - all you need to have on hand is salt, pepper and oil. These new boxes are really working well for me; I can still eat well and try new exciting recipes even when I don't have a lot of time to cook. In fact, it's also been taking the hassle out of planning and shopping before getting in during the week!

With this recipe, I found it pretty easy to make in 30 minutes, and considering how it looked and tasted, I was pretty damn pleased with myself! The walnut quinoa salad is something I'm going to make more now that I know the recipe too, meaning I've added a new card to my mental recipe book.

In following the recipe, I did find myself umming and ahhing over the ingredients; there's no ingredient list to Riverford-labelled items such as Worcester sauce, meaning I did have to give them the benefit of the doubt that it was vegetarian. That being said, I do like how packaging is as minimal as possible, with the cold bag being picked up the next time you order a box, and a lot of cardboard rather than plastic.

So, the question is, would you like to give one a go too? Riverford have kindly provided a box to giveaway, and you'll have the chance to choose the two meals that come to you! The only thing you need to do is make sure you're based in the UK. Enter using the box below the recipe - the more options you do, the more chances you have of winning. Good luck!



MUSHROOM RAREBIT + QUINOA SALAD
Serves 2

Mushroom rarebit
4 portobello mushrooms
50g walnuts
2 eggs
150g grated cheese
10g plain flour
50ml white wine
1 tsp vegetarian Worcester sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Sprinkle of paprika
+
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Quinoa salad
50g red quinoa
50g salad leaves
30g chervil
1 celery stalk
1 apple
+
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°/Gas mark 5
  2. Put your walnuts on a lined baking tray, and toast in the oven for a few minute. Once browned, take out and put into a bowl
  3. Pop the mushrooms upside-down on the baking tray, drizzle in a little olive oil and season
  4. Separate the egg yolks and put into a bowl; whisk with a fork and add in the cheese, flour, wine, Worcester sauce, and mustard. Spoon the mix onto each mushroom and sprinkle over paprika
  5. Bake the mushrooms for 20 minutes, or until golden
  6. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a sieve and transfer into a small pan. Pour over boiling water so it's covered by a centimetre and boil for 14 minutes, until the seeds have popped open
  7. Alongside this, prep the salad by picking the chervil leaves off the stalks, dice the celery, slice the apple, and throw into a bowl
  8. Once the quinoa is cooked, drain, add into the bowl and mix. Then drizzle over apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
  9. Finally, retrieve your mushrooms from the oven, serve on a plate and dig in!



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