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! :)