Lifebox – Birthday Box

Lifebox. A monthly package delivered to your door, bursting at the seams with snacks, powders, treats, chocolate, drinks and teas to enrich your life, widen your tastebuds and make healthy eating easy and accessible in your busy lives. Jennie and her team have now been providing people across the country with their goodies for the past three years, I have been following them from the very off after finding them on Instagram and watching how far they have come since then.

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With a choice of four different boxes to either order as a one off or as a subscription there is something to suit every lifestyle and pocket. The everyday wellness box, the men’s health box and the women’s health box all costing £22.95, encasing full sized products from exciting new startups and old favourites on the market. Also there’s the Lifebox mini, offering samples of products featured in the everyday Lifebox for a smaller price, so you can dip your toe in the water before committing.

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Is there anything more enjoyable than receiving a parcel in the post? Not really. It’s like Christmas day for me! So the fact that if you subscribe to Lifebox every month you will receive a jam-packed white box, with food and drinks to fall in love with, that’s a pretty great thing to look forward to. Also included is a booklet with workout routines anything from HIIT to yoga and recipes from guest bloggers using ingredients found in the box so when you’re lacking some inspiration you know where to turn.

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So in this birthday box, first some things that were well-known to me:

Alongside that many new nibbles:

Standouts of the group have to be the Vild and Co. granola. Strong in cinnamon but a tart bitterness cuts through from the bilberries. It’s addictive. It’s granola, what’s not to love. The Wilde Nuts chocolate cashew butter is mightily good, creamy but with a good cacao hit. In porridge with raspberries…NEXT LEVEL. I’ve also been enjoying the energy bomb sachet from Your Superfoods in my overnight oats. Cinnamon typically is the only spice or powder that features in my breakfasts (maybe maca if i’m feeling fancy), but this mix-up of açai, guarana, lucuma, maca and banana powder is nice to switch things up a bit. Lightly sweet from the banana, supposedly great for energy levels, not that I’ve noticed a difference but as long as it tastes good, that’s what we’re here for really!?! A note on the Leithy Creates raw puds, specifically the peanut butter truffle, it’s a good job that you don’t get more than one they’re devilishly good and would be polished off in one sitting!

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Head on over to their website to see what’s in store for this months’ box. Follow them on instagram @lifeboxfoodco for some daily inspiration for recipes, the breakfast and drinks in particular are really rather funky, and the odd giveaway here and there. you never know you might be the lucky devil one day! Don’t miss out on the seasonal specials either, at Christmas time and Easter there tends to be a luxury Lifebox, full of seasonal treats. Better than your tub of quality streets?? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

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Stumped about sugar?

Sugar. White and ‘processed’, dark brown, golden syrup, maple syrup, sweets, honey, toffee, caramel, fruit, dried fruit, coconut sugar, Stevia, molasses. Whatever your mind conjures up when I mention this buzzword, we have all been paying particular attention the past year or two to this meddling carbohydrate.

The word refined-sugar has been thrown around by health bloggers, newspapers and the media, a term supposedly describing types of sugar that have gone through a form of processing and had all ‘goodness’ removed. Countless recipes stream down your Pinterest feed that are labelled refined sugar free. Millionaire shortbread bars, brownies, cakes, cookies, all our favourite sweet treats made allegedly healthier. So eating the whole batch in one go is fine, because its not made with sugar right??

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Along with clean eating, gluten free, dairy free, low carb, all these diets which are becoming the norm, refined sugar free is another which has been added to the extensively long list. We are told day after day that sugar is the devil, no longer fat as we used to believe. That it causes cancer, diabetes, obesity, the main ailments that are  putting such a strain on our NHS and healthcare services. Of course sugar is a main ingredient in things such as fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits, but does everyone think to look on the back of packets of sauces, ready meals, condiments, flavoured nuts and crisps? Take a flick through your cupboards and I’m sure you will be surprised at how thinly sugar manages to spread itself.

First things first, sugar isn’t all too great for us, just to put it straight. It’s found naturally in most foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, its very high in energy which in turn gives us energy to move, breathe and basically live. The thing we need to watch out for is added sugars or free sugars as you may often see it written. This term defines products where sugar has been added and isn’t found there naturally. Think of syrups, fizzy drinks, the sugar in your tea or coffee and even in fruit juices. When it comes to free sugars we have the choice of whether to add them or not, unlike total sugars such as lactose in milk and ones found in fruits and vegetables. For adults it’s recommended in the UK that we consume no more than 30g of added sugar every day. That 30g is quite difficult to picture in your head, so think about it like this, 7 tsp/sugar cubes MAX, and for children this number is obviously lower.

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In 2016, Jamie Oliver started the Childhood Obesity Strategy, in a ploy to crack down on increasing obesity rates in the UK. Some of many things he was campaigning for, a sugar tax, a ban on junk food advertising pre-watershed, clearer labelling including a visual sugar content, and reduction in manufacture for excessive sugar. If you watched Jamie’s Sugar Rush you will have seen the impacts that it is having on us all across the world, especially those consuming a typically ‘western diet’. After his petition going to debate in the commons, the government failed to accept the majority of his pleas, only compromising with the sugar tax with no given amount as of yet.

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We are all more aware now of the sugar content in things. I think we’re heading in a good direction, eating more consciously and lower sugar the majority of the time and eating the odd brownie if you fancy it, HELL why not! Of course it’s not going to do you any damage. That REAL brownie is surely going to satisfy that craving more than a sweet potato one full of maple syrup or agave syrup. My main issue is the group of people calling a sin on refined sugar-white caster sugar or soft brown sugar-meanwhile pouring bottles of maple syrup on their 2 ingredient pancakes or baking cakes with coconut sugar as it contains lots of minerals so its better for us.

I’m not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but I know well enough that sugar is sugar. No matter what you want to call it, our body sees all types of sugar in the same way. Whether it’s raw honey, agave syrup or caster sugar, it gives us energy, any extra is stored as fat and doesn’t give us any health benefits. It is true that maple syrup contains potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium. It’s also true that coconut sugar contains electrolytes and vitamin C along with loads of other minerals, and yes raw honey is antibacterial (perfect if you have a sore throat) however you would have to eat a ton of any of these to reap any benefits. The amount of sugar consumed would obviously then outweigh the ‘good for you’ label.

Another group of people are the sugar free crusaders, shoving all types of sugar containing foods aside, including fresh fruit. That means no syrups, no apples, bananas, possibly the odd portion of berries because they’re ‘lower in sugar’, no dried fruit, juice only if its green made completely from vegetables. You see, I went through this phase, thinking I was doing the right thing. In the sugar free phase, I found I was opting for lots of nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, avocados, things quite high in fat to fill in that sugar free hole. It wasn’t a great time, and seriously what is wrong with fruit?!? NOTHING, EXACTLY. Fruit contains fibre and lots of it, and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all too well that we need a lot of roughage in our diets. Dried fruit too contains lots of fibre, prunes have a reputation for a reason, so sprinkle them on your breakfasts and include them in your diets.

Happily now, I’ve managed to bring myself to a middle ground, keeping my overall added sugar levels to a minimum, but not putting a big red cross over it for the rest of eternity. There is nothing wrong with a little of the sweet stuff. No matter the source of origin your body will recognise it as glucose or fructose-just organic molecules-they aren’t separated into groups whether they came from a medjool date or a sugar cube. Remember those 7 tsp of added sugar to keep an eye on daily, and if you’re a lover of a sweet cuppa perhaps its a good time to start reigning it in. Take it slowly, stretched out over a few weeks and your taste buds will soon adjust.

Changing the odd daily habit will make a huge benefit to your diet in the long run:

  • When baking reduce the quantity of sugar by a third in recipes. It’s the maximum amount of sugar to remove without it affecting the structure and texture of the bake, but the flavour is still just as good.
  • Buy natural yogurt instead of sweetened and add your toppings and mix-ins to your own taste.
  • Instead of having jam or marmalade with butter on toast every morning for breakfast, try a spread of peanut, almond or even cashew butter with some sliced banana. The combination of high protein nut butter with the sugar from the fruit and carbohydrates from the bread will keep you going until lunchtime.
  • If you’re a big fan of fizzy and soft drinks, and water just is tasteless and boring, try infusing jugs of water with fresh fruits, citrus, herbs or vegetables. Things like mint, lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, berries, melon, as good as it sounds!
  • That chocolate bar is the only thing which gets you past 4pm? Banning it is not necessary, if you can learn to love dark chocolate. Preferably 70% or above, the higher the better, as it is lower in sugar and due to the deep intensity a few squares is usually enough.
  • If dairy free milks are your jam, check on the ingredients list. On many of them, sugar will be the second or third on the list. Opt for the unsweetened varieties, or ones made with rice for some natural sweetness.

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Let’s put a stop to this term refined sugar free. It’s defunct. Its all the same stuff. Sprinkling coconut sugar on your Rice Krispies sure ain’t no better than sprinkling white sugar on. So save those extra £££s (that stuff is expensive) and stick to a bowl of porridge!

Thanks for reading my little rant, if you have anything else to add or want to join in the conversation please do comment below.

Until next time, love and sweet blessings

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It’s here. IT’S HERE

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So it’s here. The official beginning of the lead up to Christmas. Possibly better than the day itself, yes I think so.

Filled with mince pies (never enough of them), carols, alcohol (too much of that), chocolate (too much of that too), Christmas markets and twinkly lights.

So this time last year I was in Mumbai, living there for three months, up until December the 20th. In a majoritively (Urban dictionary definition: ‘A word used by stupid people to seem smart instead of mostly or mainly’) Hindu city, who obviously don’t celebrate Christmas as we Brits do, I was feeling pretty low to say the least about missing out on the festive run up. However I was so pleasantly surprised to see brightly rainbow coloured decorations decking the stalls along the roads and Christmas carols in the cafes, it managed to fill that void in my heart.

But still no advent calendar, or mince pies (I really do love them and have created so many variations, brownie mince pies being the latest), and living with a Russian who also doesn’t celebrate Christmas in a similar fashion, it just wasn’t the same.

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When I finally arrived home, (YES FINALLY) Christmas dinner was one of my first proper meals, hot warmth swimming in gravy not a bowl of salady crunch.

BUT minus the sprouts. I KNOW. It was indeed a travesty. So this year I am making up for it going through at least a packet a week and giving the little cabbages the love they require.

So it’s a big deal this year to celebrate Christmas properly, I’m making up for the lack of festivities last year. Is it possible that I started my Christmas planning in September/October. Why of course? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Christmas chutney jarred up and ready for for its party outfit packaging, mincemeat made twice because I’ve nearly used up the first batch, Christmas cards made and decorations being crocheted as we speak.

I really am that girl (or should I say granny?)

Speaking of mincemeat, there’s two types that I like to make. First a traditional one. I used both of these recipes this year from the queen Mary Bezza herself and Barney Desmazery from the Good Food team. The former is almost all used up and the latter is steeping in its brandy bath for a couple of weeks before the lids are popped open. I do reduce the sugar by around a third in the traditional recipes-considering the sheer amount of dried fruit it can stand a little less  teeth-aching sweetness. The second is a mincemeat aimed towards me, using completely wholefoods, no suet, no candied peel (that stuff is of the devil), and absolutely no added sugar.

I found the recipe from the Hemsley sisters, make up a batch or even double and store in the fridge as there’s no sugar to act as the preservative. It’s brilliant stuff, and of course it finds its way into my porridge annually as a Christmas eve festive brekky.

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Get some mincemeat in there, your porridge will thank you

Now onto the casing, the pastry. I have been playing around with pastry recipes for a good while, never quite happy. Sometimes too bland, others too sweet, too hard and not crumbly and short enough. I like to bite into a mince pie (preferably still warm from the oven) and it disintegrates into a dreamy roof-of-the-mouth scorching buttery loveliness. YA FEEL ME?!?

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To add to my Christmas collection and slumping shelf of cookbooks, I bought the new offering from Gizzi Erskine, Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings. Not just Christmas recipes, full of new and inspiring ideas for Halloween all the way through to NYE and what to do with those pesky leftovers as SOMEBODY bought too large a turkey and no one can ever cook it properly (Brine it people!!).

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So flicking through, a recipe for mince pies obviously caught my eye. New flavour combinations always cry out for a test run but these will be on repeat. I always make my pastry with white spelt flour rather than plain flour. 1. Its saves me time from making two different pastries because nobody has time for that, and 2. spelt has a much lower gluten content than wheat therefore no chance of overworking and hello short crumbliness.

So get making a batch of this pastry, maybe two to keep one in the freezer for a later date, and then get those mince pies in the oven. Of course a mince pie should be a treat but as we only eat them for one month of the year I think a couple more is allowed. Still warm out the oven and doused in some cold cream, it’s Christmas for gods sake.

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Mince pies with an earl grey and orange pastry

I’ve reduced the sugar by quite a mile in these mince pies, and by making everything from scratch you can alter it to your own tastes. As I’ve said already it is Christmas so allow yourself a break and enjoy the festivities, a little too much sugar won’t do you any harm at all. Compared to the shop bought mince pies these have more of an adult flavour letting the dried fruits shine through and of course the brandy. And if there’s not enough tummy warming liquor in the pies, have a little tipple on the side. Sherry is my choice, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

Ingredients

Mincemeat

Adapted from Hemsley and Hemsley

  • 2 eating apples
  • 160g dried fruit, I like a combination of raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots, prunes (whatever you have in your cupboards)
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 an orange
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 25g butter or coconut oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 – 5 tbsp brandy

Earl grey and orange pastry

Adapted from Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings: Feasts and Celebrations from Halloween to Happy New Year

  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp loose earl grey tea
  • 2 tbsp orange juice (I use the orange that I’ve zested)
  • 1 free range egg
  • 225g white spelt flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 125g fridge-cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • Coconut sugar (or caster sugar) for sprinkling

Method

First make the mincemeat

  1. Leaving the skin on the apples finely chop them so they are the same size as the raisins.
  2. Place the apples in a large pan and cook on a medium heat with the lid on until they start to soften slightly.
  3. Add all the other mincemeat ingredients except the brandy and cook with the lid on for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. When the apples are soft, and the dried fruit plump, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.
  5. When cool add the brandy, depending on your taste. I like to add more because I like the boozy flavour.
  6. Spoon into sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

Second make the pastry

  1. Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and leave to infuse until cool, then store in the fridge.
  2. Beat the orange juice with egg and set aside.
  3. Put the flour, salt and orange zest in a food processor and whizz for a few seconds. Then tip in the butter and whizz to form a breadcrumb-like consistency.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of the egg mixture and all of the cold tea, and pulse until the pastry is forming large clumps. You may need up to 3 tbsp of the egg, but it should feel like it is on the drier side and needs slightly more liquid, when the texture is right.
  5. Tip onto a floured side and bind into a ball, being careful not to knead it.
  6. Squish into a flat round, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Will keep in the fridge for around 5 days, also can be frozen to be used another time.

The mince pies

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan
  2. Roll the pastry on a floured surface to around 3mm thick. Using an 8cm fluted cutter, cut around 12 circles and place them in a bun tin.
  3. Put around 1 tbsp of mincemeat in the pastry cases, try to get in as much filling as possible without mince pie eruptions.
  4. Then using a 6.5cm round cutter, or a star cutter, cut 12 tops out the rest of the pastry. If you run out, roll up the scraps and re-roll to finish cutting out the lids.
  5. Brush the edges of the tarts with the remaining egg and orange mixture, then top with the lids. If you have a full lid, squeeze the rims together and cut a little hole in the middle to let out the steam.
  6. Brush with more orange and egg mixture and sprinkle with a little coconut sugar.
  7. Place the tin in the oven for around 15 minutes, or until they are bubbling and golden brown.
  8. Leave to cool if you can resist, if you can’t and you burn your mouth, don’t blame me!
  9. Eat with gusto, a sherry in one hand, mince pie in the other. Aaaand repeat!

 

Merry Christmas my loves

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