Saturday, 8 March 2014

Some thoughts for International Women's Day

Yesterday in The Independent there was an article about Lily Allen and how she feels we don't need the word feminism anymore.

I call baloney. Her position is one of privilege, and while in 'developed' states like the UK there may seem like there is no need for feminism as we have always known it (more on that in a moment), there is an awful lot of the world where feminism is yet to have its day.

I do agree that the debate needs to change. Too often us white, middle class women in developed nations try to impose our own paradigm on other countries. What works in Europe is probably not really going to work in Africa. But... there are certain basic principles that no matter how you frame it, cannot be ignored and still need to be fought for.

For example, the right to education. While education for both genders is a given in 'developed' nations (by the way, I write developed like that because what counts as developed is open to interpretation, but in this case I use it to mean countries where the standard of living for all is assumed to be relatively high), and an accepted principle in many others, the reality is that many girls are unable to attend school. This may be because the school charges fees and the family can only afford to send one child, so send the male child. This might be because they are expected to stay at home and look after their siblings. It might simply be because they just can't.

Sexual and reproductive health is another area of great inequality. Poverty has many roots and a wide variety of solutions, one of which is the ability to control when reproduction happens. For this to happen, women need to be able to make choices about their reproductive and sexual health, the same way we have in the developed world.

I could go on and on. But it isn't just about the 'developing' world. Even in 'developed' countries, women still face prejudice, violence, discrimination and abuse, simply because of their gender. Sometimes I think it is getting worse, not better, but then I remember that what is actually happening is that the internet is giving a very public platform for those who do those things.

Feminism might have become a dirty word, and oh yes there is a severe level of internal fighting amongst feminists of different schools. But being different is ok. Women are not a homogeneous block of society, and it is our differences, just like with other people, that make us great. But we need to work together to create a better society for everyone, not just women.

Happy International Women's Day. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

I've been a bit slack on the sugar front..

Over Christmas I indulged in some sweet treats and sort of fell off the wagon. What with quitting dairy trying to do more than one thing at a time felt too hard.

I also put on about 3kgs (or 6lbs/half a stone for the imperial amongst us) which I have struggled to lose again.

So now I'm content with the lack of dairy (it has taken a few months, but I think I'm there), I can go back to the minimal sugar. I say minimal because no sugar is too difficult and as my problem is likely insulin related I can't replace with dextrose. So, minimal sugar for treats only. And bread. I buy this delicious sandwich loaf that is sour dough and rye but it has a little sugar in it. The 'of which sugars' is 3g per 100g so not too bad actually, which is why I will allow it to stay.

But this means that the sugary treats have to go, and I need to eat more veg and good fats. And no more Manner wafers! At least once a week won't hurt....

Monday, 17 February 2014

Unexpected new boots!

Alas, my beloved New Rocks have once again revealed the true extent of the hardwearing I put them through and they need a trip to the cobblers. This time it is the zips, which have been slowly threatening a mutiny, finally achieved in the security part of Vienna airport, on our way to Sweden.

A frantic diversion of my planned shopping activities was required, and thankfully the little street containing a goth/metal shop and 2 equally rocky boot stores was right in the centre. The Beard spotted these babies in the sale rack of the third store we went into and I was so glad he did!


If there is one thing guaranteed to bring out the worst in me, it is shoe shopping. Unplanned shoe shopping. Having spent a lifetime hearing the phrase "we don't stock those in that size", and variations of, I have a small wardrobe of footwear. DMs, New Rocks, Birkenstocks, Reefs (sadly discontinued in my size now but my 14 year old pair are still going strong)... all of these were carefully selected with research and time. Even my more feminine shoes were purchased following research and trying on, and come from repeat brands. Once I know which brands make shoes that fit, I keep buying from them. It isn't loyalty per se, just practicality.

No, unplanned shoe shopping and me do not mix. Especially when you aren't that keen to part with serious bucks to find something (thing about shopping in Sweden? Everything except the domestic brands are expensive. Like really expensive.). So when The Beard found these, in my size, in the sale rack, for a bargainous 500 SEK, I was hopeful. At first try on they felt huge, but predictably the size down was too small.

Now I've been wearing them for a while, actually they aren't that wide or sloppy, and are actually really comfortable. There is room for thicker socks, but they are equally comfy with thinner ones. The shorter height makes them ideal for the whole year, whereas my DMs and New Rocks become relegated to the closet in the hotter summer months.


Even better, they look great with the black LTS jeans I bought that I'm never quite sure about - they are a weird cut and possibly slightly too big for me, meaning that they really don't work with knee high boots. They also look great with skirts and dresses - I wore them with the black dress I bought from Dorothy Perkins the other day. The outfit does make me think a lot of Enid from the Worst Witch books, but as she was one of my childhood heroes, that can only be a good thing (and the 90s are in right....)!

I shall be taking my New Rocks to the cobblers this week to get a quote on the repair (they also need a new leather lining as that is also worn away), and I am hopeful that it will be reasonable - a brand new pair will cost me around €350 so plenty of leeway for making these ones good. But in the meantime I know my feet are well taken care of!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Yummy treats from the vegan supermarket

Whilst being dairy free has made a huge, huge, and I mean really huge, impact on my life, I miss cheese. And chocolate that is not dark. Ice cream. The list goes on. Of course none of this is helped by the fact that as my problems are rooted in hormones, I also try to avoid un-fermented soy (I was relieved to read the other day that the fermentation process used to make tamari/soy sauce, and miso, does something to the phytoestrogens in soya to render them effectively harmless), which means a lot of the desserts etc made with dairy replacers are also out. I do still eat the odd soy pudding - I particularly like the dark chocolate ones - but it can be a little depressing to have to pass up on the yummy things on the shelves.

Enter Maran Vegan. A vegan friend in the city told me about it and finally yesterday I got round to going down there. It is on Stumpergasse, off Mariahilfer Strasse, at the end nearest Westbahnhof. I usually go to Staudigl for some of my dairy free food needs, mainly because it is pretty close, and they do a good line in oils and essential oils that I use for cleansing etc.

Maran Vegan however, is a supermarket first. They do sell some beauty products, like Dr Bronner's Magic Soap (wonderful stuff) and other vegan friendly brands, but their primary focus is food. The milk replacement aisle is big!

I was mainly looking for some cheese - I buy one brand and type in Billa, but Maran have so many more options. The two I bought yesterday are by Jeezini, a range which has loads of different 'types' of vegan cheese, including Monti (which I am imagining to be like Monterey Jack) and Bianco, which apparently has a mozzarella flavour.

 

So far I've only tried the Bianco, and I have to report that while it is nice, it only tastes like mozarella if you've never eaten organic, fresh buffalo mozzarella. The taste more resembles the sort of plasticy mozzarella that is designed for cooking (my Italian colleague explained that cooking mozzarella is like that because the water is squeezed out to stop your food going soggy) which isn't the best for eating in a salad or a sandwich, but I'm sure it will taste quite yummy with some tomatoes and fresh basil. Certainly for me, as a substitute for the real thing it will do. I'm going to try melting it on something to see how it reacts - with a bit of luck it'll work!

I also found Booja Booja chocolates and ice cream in the store. I didn't buy the ice cream (wasn't sure how long I was going to be out and didn't have a freezer bag), but I did get some truffles. They were probably the most expensive chocolates I've bought in a while (€15.90 for 12) but my goodness they were worth it! Dairy free, soya free, raw... the taste was phenomenal! I will be going back for some ice cream soon for sure.


I bought the Truffle Selection No. 2, which contained Rhubarb and Vanilla, Hazelnut, Banoffee Toffee and Almond Caramel truffles. I also bought a mini 2 pack of Raspberry Truffles.


The box is so lovely I decided to keep it for storing things in. Not sure what yet though!

The truffles were amazing! I didn't like the Banoffee Toffee one that much, because it really tastes of real bananas (not that sickly fake taste) and I'm not that keen on them anyway. The Raspberry ones were my absolute favourite; the tangy taste of raspberries against the chocolate was so good. All of them were really tasty, and for a Valentine's Day treat they definitely justified the price tag!



The other exciting thing I found in Maran Vegan was Cavalo Nero (or Schwarzkohl in German). Kale, chard and variants of are really hard to get here in Austria. It is like the Austrian's don't really like dark green veg except savoy cabbage and spinach. Which is a shame, because kale, greens, chard etc are all amazing vegetables. So when I saw a woman with a bunch of Cavalo Nero in her basket, I raced around to the veg area to pick some up myself. €3 got me a big bunch with enough for three meals in it, so although it is a little pricey compared to other veg, it is quite economical. And all the veg at Maran Vegan is organic, so really it wasn't that bad.I cooked it up with mushrooms and homemade garlic and herb butter to go with our steaks last night, and had some for brunch today with bacon and eggs on toast. Scrummy!

While I'm not planning on becoming vegan at any point in time, the only real difference between veganism and my diet is meat and eggs. So it is really good to have places to shop for the things that make life bearable when you're an enforced dairy avoider! And somewhere to be able to buy random vegetables. Next thing you know, they'll have rutabagas.....


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Quitting Dairy and Sugar: 3/4 months on

I just realised it has been almost 3 months since I stopped eating dairy products of any form. Or at least attempting to. Apart from some minimal dairy consumption at Christmas (I couldn't pass up some clotted cream with my pudding, or some of the fabulous Cheddar we'd been saving all year, which by god was the most delicious cheese I think I've ever eaten...), and some minor incidences with products that contain milk in small quantities, I've been pretty faithful to the mission.

Since coming back to work though, I've made a specific effort to be stricter with myself, and check labels obsessively. A vegan friend came over to dinner and she gave me some pointers for vegan treats, which was really really helpful (who knew that Manner Schnitten were vegan?) and recommended some vegan cheese, which is delicious and tastes just like the real thing. She also made me feel a little less like the odd one out at a party for not eating dairy; even though I am not vegan, chatting about food options with someone who is was quite grounding and reassuring.

It is also 4 months since I cut out sugar, and although I haven't stuck to a no sugar diet, I do try and keep my consumption to a minimum. Unfortunately I did discover that I can't eat large quantities of glucose or other high GI sweeteners, because of the fast acting insulin response. A little is ok, but actually regular sugar which is 50% fructose is better for me. I just try not to eat it too often.

How do I feel? I feel great. One of the best things to happen this year is that since quitting dairy, I haven't been ill. I had a mild sniffle over Christmas and it did threaten to become something major, but it didn't, and I could enjoy the festive period. Before Quitting Dairy (BQD), that cold would have gone straight into my sinuses and laid me low for a few days. This time it didn't even touch them.

I also just feel cleaner. Like my system isn't clogged up with gunk. I don't ever want to become a preachy ex dairy consumer, and obviously if you have no issues with dairy consumption then go ahead, at least someone should enjoy the delicious cheese, but for me, no dairy equates to no spots, and a feeling of inner peace. All very zen and hippy like!

As I mentioned, I did have a bit of dairy over Christmas. While I didn't see any immediate reactions, I did notice a gradual deterioation in the state of my skin (which I put down to too much alcohol and not enough water at the time), then I reacted badly to the Clarins oil. It was only this week when I've been eating really good food, that I could truly appreciate the impact dairy and sugar has on my skin in a longer term sense.

A week of really watching my gluten intake, moderating my carbs, eating lots of vegetables, drinking loads of water and pretty much having nothing with sugar in have made such a difference to my skin. I also found I could really push myself more in the gym this week, so maybe there is something in this.

Substituting things with dairy in isn't always straightforward and sometimes requires some creative thinking, especially if you also want to avoid soy like I do. I'll do a separate post on my favourite substitutes at some point - it is possible to subsitute most things in some way. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Since when has there been a wrong side of 25?


When I was growing up, 30 seemed to be the age when you became maybe a little bit old. Maybe. More like grown up. 30 seemed the magical number that would bestow you with some wisdom. On the eve of my 31st birthday I can confirm that that isn't true. I do feel a little older and wiser, but then I've done a lot of wisening over the last 2 years since I hit the final year of my 20s.

I'm not sure whether it is the blogger revolution that has started this, or whether they have just magnified something that already existed, but I see an awful lot of bloggers (and now seemingly friends) writing about being on the wrong side of 25.

Come on people!!

Maybe it's because my 25th birthday coincided with filing divorce papers and ramping up for an election year. Maybe it's because my 25th birthday was accompanied by the first flushes of new love, by my new beau meeting my parents for the first time, or the awesome dinner we had (I think we went to Michael Caines Brasserie). Whatever it was, turning 25 didn't seem like that big of a deal. I didn't suddenly feel an overwhelming pull to use anti ageing products, I certainly didn't think that I was on the wrong side of anything (well, except the long, pathetic email I received from the ex the morning of my birthday).

So what gives bloggers? When did 25 start being this big milestone age?
Image from www.bigstockphoto.com

Quite frankly, I feel quite affronted when I read something in a blog post saying something about approaching 25, or being the wrong side of 25. Does that make me over the hill then? Shall I just resign myself to a downward spiral of, well, everything?

(I also realise that the very fact that this makes me grumpy is a sign of my age.)

And what is a quarter life crisis? Surely at 25 we are supposed to be at our prime! I asked my older cousins once whether they had a favourite age, and I remember the eldest telling me that 25 was her favourite age - she was old enough to do what she wanted and be in charge of her destiny, but young enough not to have to care too much. I think I kept that in mind as I celebrated and partied through my mid-twenties. I think I also experienced something of a rebirth as I turned 25, shedding a life that had grown to make me miserable, and starting a new one with people who made me happy.

Having said all that, I am rather enjoying being 30ish. It isn't just about the number, but the my current situation, which makes me rather happy. I'm not sure how it would have worked out if I was 25 right now. Although when I was 25 I became the Deputy Leader of Exeter City Council and had a lot of responsibility! My colleagues last year described me as Benjamin Button, doing everything backwards, and I guess that is somewhat true. I took on all the big stuff when I was younger and now I'm relaxing into what I think is going to be my best decade yet.

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