Saturday, 6 May 2017

My Blog Has Now Moved!!

You can now follow me on: 

Where I have posted a full description of my popular vegan mince recipe

See you there!! 

Alison x

Monday, 24 April 2017

Easter Holidays

Hi everyone

What lovely weather we had during the school holidays! I love not having to trudge up to school first thing and in the middle of the day - all day then free to take the boys exploring!

We have had a couple of days in so I can catch up on housework but they climb the walls and aren't as well behaved!

I made some counting beans for them to play with their trucks and tractors.   As with all my products they are using food grade ingredients and packaging and are 100% biodegradable and packaging 100% recyclable!

We love watching those youtube channels where trucks are scooping coloured balls, and they teach you the colours and counting.

I hope you agree that the colours really pop with these - I want to do pink! I told Finley that it's because we have all the Paw Patrol colours except Skye.

We went to Wilderness woods as a family and I tried to identify trees.  I'm not very good at Tree  Identification despite being really interested it!

Mainly I've been putting a lot of effort into the veggie garden.  I did about 3 hours over the bank holiday weekend.  I've now built 6 veggie beds

(1 will be placed on top of another to give depth).  I've lined them all and now have 3 left to fill with earth.  Tomato plants are in the first bed.  I think they are tomato! I also sowed Aubergine seeds and the labels washed away so I'm not 100% sure, but they are treated the same.

We have been a bit run down with coughs which I'm pleased to say is the only illness we've had since being vegan - all those fresh fruit and veg have definitely made a difference.

Noah lost a tooth! He fell while tired and knocked his tooth back into his top gum - ouch! Sounds so painful but he was a champ and only cried for a short time.  The dentist offered an extraction or wait and see so we are keeping an eye on it and it might even be pushing back down.

He had trouble sleeping because he could no longer take his dummy at night so I became his dummy! He is now slowly not depending on being attached to me all night and we are all sleeping better.

Today I made my meat recipe again (see steak blog) sun dried toms, mushrooms, nuts etc.  But this time I blended 2 onions in my food processor and fried them, then put only a small amount of my meat recipe in (about the same amount as 2 small burgers) with 2 tins of chopped tomatoes, 1 tin of black beans, a handful or quinoa and barley and about 50ml worcester sauce (vegan), veg stock and made an awesome cottage pie with it! It tastes pretty close to how it used to when I ate a good way.  It's actually the best cottage pie I've ever had!  Glad we can still have healthy, protein-full, stodgy good food.  Using pastry is a good one too if you are after something substantial.

Hopefully by next week my veggie beds will be complete and I'll be back onto building the Tiny Land website.  I'm keen on getting my products accessible to my customers and groups such as charities - it's lovely to know that I can bring joy to other children through my work and this will be a real motivator for me.  I expect the website will be ready by early June - ready for summer holidays getting messy outside!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Colourants: Dyes Pigments and the truth about E numbers!

Hi all,

It's been a challenging week for me with a poorly Noah, who couldn't sleep with his cold and was miserable.  Then just as he was getting better he fell and hit his tooth!  He's on the mend now thankfully and getting back to his cheeky cheerful self.   I've just come back from the garden having lined the first raised bed and shovelling some of my soil/compost mix which arrived today...spading that stuff in was like using a teaspoon to fill a kettle!    It looks great though, we've been decorating it down there, I'll share pics next week.  What this week is about - as promised - is COLOURS!

One of my favourite subjects!  I won't go too technical because a)I'm not qualified to do so, I'm no chemist and this stuff can get COMPLICATED! and b) I don't want my blogs to be too long and dull to read.  If anyone has questions or wants me to cover a specific area I'll gladly do that.

Anyways..colours..I use colours for Tiny Land products, and cooking at home.  I want to make sure that not only have the colours I use for Tiny Land been EU approved for Toys use (a legal obligation) but is food grade.  I'm part of the Natural movement where I try to use Natural materials in my home as much as possible.  The more I research into natural materials the more I learn that natural is not always best.  (Again I'll write another article on Natural vs man made, but have included some points of explanation below).

Colours come in 2 forms..Dyes and Pigments.  Pigments have a larger particle size than Dyes and therefore are not soluble in water and are also opaque.  Dyes are transparent.

Dyes are mostly water soluble (it gets can check out and are therefore clear.  If you think about a cup of tea before you put any milk in, or bagged herbal can see the colour has ran into the water and the water has dissolved the tea.  That's a dye.   They are sold highly concentrated (due to their size) so look much darker when they are in a packet than when added to water.  

Pigments are like need to mix it well to get it to disperse evenly into the water or milk..but it never really dissolves.  (Is a suspension/dispersion not a solution)  It can float to the bottom.  When you buy a pigment it looks the same as will when you apply it.

Either of these types are available as natural or synthetic colourants.  The terms Organic and Inorganic are used with colourants.  In this case, Organic means having been biological or alive e.g. plant or animal and Inorganic relates to natural but not alive such as minerals/rocks etc.

Dyes - Natural dyes "think water soluble" are available from plants.  There are many wonderful sources of colour you can use for dying paper, fabrics etc.  Fruit and Vegetables such as Spinach and Beetroot or Turmeric.  Both Turmeric and Beetroot are natural PH indicators which means they change colour in varying Ph levels.  I learned this by accident dying my t shirt in Turmeric and washing it with my home made detergent and it went a burgundy red!   Hydrangeas turn blue when they are in an acid soil...I find all this stuff SO interesting as when you walk through forests or the few meadows we have now you can see the natural world is so alive! I love foraging too.  I will write up sources of natural dyes at some point.

You need to use a Mordant to dye fabric which means something to make it 'fast' (stick to the item) such as an acid (vinegar) or yeast.  Again I found out by accident when straining my home cider..the tannins in the apples and the yeast stained my muslins a lovely caramel brown!  Most of these dyes will also oxidise when left in water..that means they will change colour into greys or browns as water is not their natural home.  I recommend the book Wild Colour by Jenny Dean if you're into dying fabrics or yarns.

So for any of my DRY products (play dough, rainbow rice etc).  I use natural food colourings where possible.  All food colourings are dyes (unless you use food paint) I DO NOT use Cochineal.  This is a red taken from bugs who are squished to extract the colour.

For paints, it's very difficult to use natural dyes as they will change and have a very short shelf life.  Also on the paper once painted they change, so your masterpiece will not look so great after a day or so.   So I use the safe synthetics.  The EU assess at a very strict level anything that is for food use.  Including Colours, preservatives, ingredients etc.  Anything identified as an 'additive' e.g not added for the sake of it's flavour or textural qualities, has been passed and certified with an E number.  Natural or Synthetic - the treatment is the same for all 'additives'.  The full list is here:

When we say synthetics, a lot of materials are made by mimicking the natural world or putting together say,
2 known ingredients or extracts and heat treating etc..a lot like making a cake.  The reaction to heat, any chemical reaction...processing is very similar to what we do in our kitchens with baking soda, flour etc.  We know cake trees don't exist, but it doesn't mean that cakes are bad for us.  I personally have looked into a lot of materials and some which are approved by the EU for food have not passed my test for ethical or safety reasons.   As mentioned earlier, I never use anything which has not been approved for food use.

A few synthetic food dyes however, have been shown (in a Southampton Uni study) to increase hyperactivity in children and these have been called the Southampton 6.  These can be replaced in food but are tricky as mentioned earlier.  There is a great article here on this.

Dyes also can be added to various salts which are not water soluble to enable them opaque and to act as pigments.  This is particularly useful if you want a natural 'pigment', but again you need to look at the salt is has been added to.  Some are edible.  When a dye is made to act as a pigment it is called a Lake.   See

Pigments natural source is from minerals/rocks (inorganic)!  You can grind up stones to create mainly earth tones.  One natural pigment which is particularly bright is Lapis Lazuli -  a semi precious stone which was difficult to come by and so synthesised in the 1800's for artists looking for a beautiful deep blue.  This is Ultramarine.  You can find various stones around river beds or rocky areas and grind them into powders to make your own pigments - another foraging trip on my list!

Some pigments which have been mined are not approved for food use or even use in other materials because of their heavy metal content.  Basically it's not easy to ensure that they don't contain Lead and other harmful - and natural - materials.

E171 - Titanium Dioxide - is an example of a Pigment approved by the EU for food.  It is a strong white found in nature but now synthesised.  It's used in toothpaste.  You can only get a white Pigment not a dye as white is not transparent.  To make pink using a dye for example, you simply use less red.

Iron Oxides are also naturally occurring (yes rust is a form of this but not used in food!) they are forms of Iron (which we eat in green leafy veg) which has reacted with Oxygen.  Various earthy tones of Red, Yellow and even Green are available in these pigments.  They are synthesised too.
Micas or Mica is a greyish shimmering rock which is mined in various countries such as India or USA.  In India it is typically mined by children and so this is another area I am researching into - finding good, fair trade sources!  It can be purified for food use and is often added to colour pigments to use for cosmetics such as eye shadow.  Another area to look out for if you want fair trade make up! (Sorry!)

I hope this blog article has been helpful to people in understanding what's out there!  The application of these colourants is a whole other article.  Next week I'll be writing about our time in the garden and pottering about..give our brains a rest! :)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Sunshine and Rainbows!

Hello and Happy Mothers Day to all those hard working mums out there!

This week has been a journey of knowledge of colour!  I've learned so much about dyes, pigments and lakes!  I have started making a new paint for Tiny Land which would be dense enough to paint onto stones and sticks, but is great for kids!  I've struggled to get paint like this for my own kids which is safe and mostly natural.

We picked stones at the beach on Saturday when visiting Nanny for Mother's Day and are painting markers for our vegetable beds.

My test so far is really good.

Next week I am going to write a bigger piece on colourants and if you're an artist or dye yarn, or clothing, or make cosmetics, or are just curious..I hope to be able to help you.

In the meantime I offer you a Rainbow Buddha bowl recipe! Here are photos of mine, and I hope you enjoy having fun with it!

Rainbow Buddha Bowl Recipe

Red Cabbage
Red Onion - thinly sliced with balsamic vinegar


Red peppers

Orange Peppers

Yellow Peppers
Lemon slice

Steamed broccoli
Thinly sliced cabbage
Edamame Beans
Sugar snap peas

Protein and carb sources:
Potatoes - I added vegan mayo (veg oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard powder)
Chickpeas - I roasted mine in coconut sugar and paprika
Soya meat pieces - I used chicken in a teriyaki sauce and coconut sugar
Quinoa - I use Seeds of Change wholegrain rice and quinoa
Naan breads

Here are some photos of the boys enjoying the sunshine :)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Pie Recipe and Making Beads and Veg Beds!

We are back from Cyprus where the boys and I had a great time hanging out with my sister and their cousin (and my parents!) and not having the distractions of laundry, cleaning or cooking.

As soon as I got back I was raring to go with making natural pasta beads for Tiny Land.
My youngest loves pouring, threading and fine motor skills play in general, so we made some teal, red and green stars and animal beads. I sell these on my Facebook page

We have also continued improving the garden.  I had decided to replace the shed with some raised vegetable beds, but replacing the shed is such a big project as it's on a high piece of land, that I decided to use half the double drive.

Thing would cost me around £850 to have beds and soil put in, so I've started building my own!  Mad I I have no childcare options other than preschool for my eldest but they are getting easier at having around and playing while I do stuff like the housework.  I like to get them involved when I can and Fin helped me build.

I had some lovely food in Cyprus including herbed boiled onions which don't sound very nice at all but were amazing!
My mum told me they were done like my grandma made onions when she had a hotdog stand!!  I had no idea about this, it's always nice to hear something new about a loved one who has passed on. The other amazing thing was a pumpkin pie!  It tasted as though they had used raisinsand buckwheat.  I made a pie today with similar ingredients and love it! So here is the recipe.  Sorry for not providing exact measurements, wasn't thinking about sharing it at the time but it's TOOOO good not to! It literally gives you ALL your vitamins and minerals except b12 and D..but you can add marmite.

Vegan and Kid Friendly Sweet Potato Pie 

2 large leeks sliced
5 small carrots sliced
4 or so sweet potatoes sliced and halved (you can also use pumpkin or butternut squash)
Half a savoy cabbage shredded (place the other half shredded in the freezer for a quick veg option).
I placed the veg in a large pot in the following order..sweet potato, carrots, leek and cabbage.
I filled it with hot water up to the top of the leeks with a table spoon of salt and simmered for 15 mins or so until the veg was cooked through but not too soft (al dente).  I then drained any excess water (KEEP THIS WATER FOR STOCK OR FOR LATER IN THE RECIPE) added about
1 cup of buckwheat
A full tin of drained black beans
1 cup of raisins
2 tablespoons Vegan Worcester Sauce
2 tablespoons Soy sauce
(you can also add marmite for b12)
A ton of ground cinnamon..about 6 tablespoons?  My son loved doing that bit!  You can add dried apricots or sub the raisins with them...they will give you extra calcium - great for vegans.

If the mixture is too dry (you will be baking it again) then use some of the water from the veg to wet it.  Place the veg in a dish and make this lovely vegan pastry from Vegan Lovlie.  I always keep the water from my tinned chickpeas but haven't as yet had a reason to use it.  So was very pleased to be using my aqua fabia today.  **You can sub the flour with rice flour for a Gluten free option**

It makes enough for about a 6" diameter pot, so I should have tripled this recipe! In the end I just used it to put a top on the veg.  We made a few holes (my son told me that's what I should do!)

I baked the pie at around 190º for 15-20 minutes.

Finley loves crunchy food so this pastry was perfect for him.  Plus the sweetness of the raisins and cinnamon made it a winner with both toddlers!

Thankfully my husband watered my seedlings while I was away, and the Aubergines looked amazing!  The tomatoes weren't doing so well until I brought them in onto the window sill from the mini greenhouse.

I have also been trying to learn how to play Bruce Hornsby and the range The Way It Is.  I always give up because I don't normally enjoy pushing through challenges that take time..and I find piano really tough.

Spiritually, I've been feeling super connected to the earth, universe and have had some real serendipitous moments.  I've started studying "A Course in Miracles" and the only teacher I found in West Sussex happened to not only live around the corner from me, but is connected to my sanctuary space - a cafe in Sharpethorne - where I read and drink coffee.  What do I read?
A Course In Miracles!

Also I can now translate my youngest - Noah's - words, which he does in full sentences but at first it sounds like just blabber.  If you really listen, you can hear him saying "I want to get down" "I want to go with you" and the other day he said "Flower" and pointed at a picture of  one.  So far he's only said "Mama, Dadda, there" one word blabbering but also he's been saying "I did it" for months.  He's 2 in May and I'm planning his In The Night Garden party already.  So proud of my boys!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Steak, Flapjacks and Flights

Another super fast week here!  We've been having so much fun just being with each other, and I've found I'm getting more done without scheduling (thinking about) it, and just DOING (being) it.

In 1 whole day I repotted some plants, played with the boys, did the usual dressing, feeding, pre-school runs, bathing, and designed and made 2 items in fabric.  1 was a dress I wanted to wear on holiday, and another was a sleeping bag type thing for the double buggy.  I'm away on Wednesday visiting my family in Cyprus and want to go out in the evening and maybe do an open mic on the guitar.  While I do that obviously the boys need to be with me but Finley no longer fits in the double buggy as there is no leg support, the legs just go down to the footrest.  There are flaps that unzip to give you access to the storage compartment beneath and so this fabric cover lifts those up and creates a leg and foot space in the buggy so they can both sleep comfortably.

We also made this week a superhero cake for Finley to eat at a birthday party.  I didn't want him to miss out and a cake was already being made.  People don't often check about I'm vegan I am more aware about gluten free, egg, dairy and nut free children but I didn't think so much about it before.  

I've also made carrot and orange flapjacks, a tomato and aubergine curry, and today made a meat recipe which is my best ever! I'm so pleased with it.  All of these I am sharing with you today!
The aubergine curry was simply stewing tomatoes, and grilling slices of aubergine then adding to the stewed toms.  Adding ground cumin, coriander and turmeric to some oil in a pan, then onions.  Once brown add to the aubergine and tomatoes!  That's it! garlic if you wish and some salt.  I used some cauliflower as rice, I just put it in my ricer attachment to the blender.

My cake recipe is from Super Golden Bakes.  I haven't tried their avo frosting yet I normally mix cocoa with coconut oil and icing sugar to make that, but this time I just iced it, painted it and made some decorations.

I learned in painting it that the food colouring is clear when mixed with water (like a dye) and is unstable and separates (the green went yellow and blue)  To make it opaque you need to mix it with icing sugar and water to a thick paste, and spread the paste on thinly to keep it flat.

The flapjacks I made because I wanted to try and make a veggie juice like a snack that the kids can have.

3 large carrots or equivalent (I used 6 small organic ones) grated finely (I use the ricer in my blender)
1/2 cup of veggie spread
3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 3/4 cups of rolled/porridge oats
3/4 cups of medjool dates, de-stoned and chopped very finely
2 tablespoons of mixed seeds

Basically mix it all up, speed it into a square dish and bake at 180º for 15-20 minutes (the thinner you have spread this the quicker it takes).

Today's meat recipe is my favourite though as it's SO versatile.  It takes a little bit like turkey I suppose, a bit denser than chicken but not as beefy as beef.  You can change the seasoning to suit the meat you want.  Next time I'll add sage and riced apple and smoked paprika to see if it tastes like sausages!   You can also try chicken seasoning instead and use it as chicken nuggets!

100g Sun Dried Tomatoes finely chopped
200g Walnuts finely chopped
250g (1 punnet) Chestnut Mushrooms  finely chopped
1/4 cauliflower riced (very finely grated)
1 175g tub of breadcrumbs or equivalent of rice flour for gluten free option
1 packet of quinoa and wholegrain rice mix
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon of onion powder or a small onion again put through the ricer (everything needs to be in tiny pieces basically)
2 tablespoons of garlic puree if making steak
Steak, Chicken or pork seasoning.

Put everything apart from the breadcrumbs/rice flour, once chopped or riced,  in a large bowl and mix.  The mixture will be wet.  When making meatballs, roll balls in the breadcrumbs/rice and fry in shallow oil on a low heat.  When making steak, mix the breadcrumbs into the the mixture to make it hold together well and shape some into a steak.

The great thing about vegan food is that you don't have to worry about it all being cooked through - you just need to warm it up! So if you are making larger meat portions, large meatballs for example, you need to cook them for longer to ensure they are warm in the middle and crisp on the outside.

The steak really held together well for flipping - you just need to use 2 wide and flexible utensils and very carefully flip.

I then did the other sides and my steaks even held together when I shook them from the pan directly onto the plate!

Even my husband loved these (he's not vegan) and we had a glass of red wine with them.
I also made some peppercorn sauce using patly single cream, a dash of my home made elderflower wine (you can use sherry) and whole and grinder peppercorns (a LOT) and whisked in some rice flour until it was the consistency of a good single cream.

I might not be posting next week as I will be having fun in Cyprus but I hope you enjoy these recipes and I'll post in 2 weeks!

Alison x

Sunday, 26 February 2017

So much to say - look out for the recipe for home made detergent!

This week has gone SO quickly! Being half term, Finley has been home all day and I haven't had to do things to schedule, which has been lovely.  The first couple of days were such nice weather, we cleared away some of the hedge cuttings and spent time outside.

We have been potting seeds in our new mini greenhouse, we've already sown Asparagus, Rhubarb and the 3 varieties of Tomatoes we did last weekend.  This week I only managed lettuce and garlic. I planted the garlic bulbs near the lettuce as apparently it deters pests.  I had my lettuce raised up on bricks last year and were left alone.

I have been building a website for Tiny Land, and am really enjoying it since I managed to spend time sitting down and doing it properly yesterday during the day rather than a few stolen minutes in the evening.  The Facebook site just isn't enough, it's not clear enough for people what I sell.  I'm genuinely really excited about the products too, because it's an amazing process making watercolours, then using them, it's double creativity!! 💖

Went on a metal detecting trip around our neighbourhood the other day too and found an old spanner, which I think is from the 60's.  They don't make them anymore and the only others I can find are quite old.  Our estate was built in 1969 and people moved into our house for the first time in 1970.

Our garden is quite difficult to manage with the boys as it is on 5 levels.  That's a small patio which I love, then an old wall keeps that back and it drops to a green area which I had a small white picket fence made around for safety from the drop to the dropping steps.   It makes you feel a bit enclosed when you sit in it (considering our views are so open to the countryside).
An old wall keeps that back and there is another small area of dirt which I had made into a little zen area with a pergola and stones on the ground.  It just needs a water feature really.  It's difficult to access for children as there are steps all down one side of the garden and you have to step onto a short wall to get onto that level.  

BEFORE (left) and AFTER (right)                                       

The next level is a garden shed sitting on hard standing of the same size.  It must have been made for that purpose.  The step or wall onto that area is even harder as it's a bit higher..the steps are still going down to the bottom..there is no wall to keep you from the next level is ground level on below...about 6 foot.   The shed is rotting, despite me trying to prevent it by paying for a new roof to be fitted - I also had it painted duck egg in protective paint.  The walls are being damaged by vines that I can't keep on top of and it's now damp inside. 

The bottom level is a double driveway.  I've been wondering what to do with the garden.  Level it off and fill in the driveway? Or even better build a garage which we can utilise the top of as a garden.  A driveway would be the hight of the shed's ground, so that whole area of driveway and shed would be another useable garden area, bigger than the garden area we already have.  And the current grass area could be for veggies!

Our neighbours have a single garage, so building a double wouldn't be an issue planning wise.  It's using the top as a garden which might be a problem.  The land is unusually hilly all around so privacy shouldn't be an issue.  
This is the area I'm working on at the moment.  Clearing the fallen hedge.  Do I build raised beds for the drive area as it is and replace the shed?  I don't need one that big I can get a small one..all would need to be incredibly cheap or free.  I'd much rather have 1 large utilisable space.  This is what I'm imagining: 

I have a concrete area at the front which I 
filled in a bit and made into a successful herb garden.  It provides us with almost year round herbs - I picked sage on Christmas day.  It also has Fennel, Thyme, Rosemary, Mint and Chamomile.

If anyone has any ideas on how to use my space for veggie growing, playing and parking please say! 

I've also been pinning some fabric for a dress I'm making.  I'm off to Cyprus with the boys for a week soon and always wanted to make a dress out of this gorgeous fabric I had.  The weather will allow me to wear it.  

I also wanted to share with you a recipe for the laundry detergent I use.  It's 'natural' which is a loose term! It hasn't any surfactants anyway, and works really well.  

Home Made Detergent (always wear gloves when mixing this)
1kg Borax Substitute - I get mine from Amazon (£3.50 ish)
5 bars of soap (grated) - I use Shield Fresh Aqua Deodorising Soap £1 or less for 4 bars
2kg Soda Crystals - £1 for 1kg in tesco
500g Bicarbonate of Soda £1.11 I buy it in bulk here

So that's £7.86 for a month's might last you more or less. **Update it's now 23rd March and I haven't even finished 1 of the bags yet and I use 2 scoops when I could probably use 1.  So this batch will last at least 4 months and it's £7.86 - that's not even £2 a month!**

I use for softener distilled white vinegar and lavender essential oil.

Natural Definition
Regarding the term natural, people use it when referencing Bicarbonate of Soda but its man made. The term chemical has also been used as a derogatory term and is used interchangeably with man-made..however chemicals are much more.  Oxygen is a chemical...they are everywhere.  Many man made products are safe and some originally found in nature but now mass produced.  Bicarb is also named E500.
 Natural soaps - most soaps - are made using a man made chemical called Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) which undergoes a chemical change (saponification) with an oil to make soap.  Even Dr Bronner's Castile soap has used liquid lye (Potassium Hydroxide) with natural (e.g Olive) oil.  Black soap IS natural  it uses cocoa ashes as the base to react with oils to make soap.  My brother in law buys it in Africa made by hand.

The only true way to be truly natural is to think like a Paleo and if you can't grow it - or buy it as organic - then it's been man made.  But man made isn't always bad.  And nature can be powerful and cruel.  Some natural products are really strong and need careful use (Asbestos is a natural fibrous rock).  We all need to decide for ourselves what we want into our homes.  The important thing is, that it's biodegradable and or harmless to the environment.  I'll be adding a definition to Tiny Land website too!

That's a big post but hopefully you enjoyed it - there's so much to enjoy in this world of       ours!