Cloth bags instead of wrapping paper. An Eco craft Project.

Everyone is talking about the environment. It's as if we all woke up at once to the fact that the earth is a closed biosphere and that stuff we use has to be recycled or we are doomed! So I'm joining in, why not! I'm looking at presents and how we wrap them.

Paper is pretty easy to recycle compared to lots of things we make. And plain paper breaks down and composts nicely. But fancy wrapping paper, the shiny sort, the metallic sort, the glittery sort, doesn't. And Christmas and birthday wrapping can end up looking gorgeous but being very bad for the planet.

Some time ago I wrote about using bags for children's gifts, not because of the planet, but because children's toys are so over packaged that an impatient toddler can end up in tears of rage when 20 minutes after unwrapping their new baby doll daddy is still trying to undo all the ties and twists, and because so much toy packaging is geared towards gender.

But lately I realised that reusable bags would also be good for adults gifts, for any gifts really, and the best thing about a little bag is that it makes gifts easy to wrap, and it can be reusable too!

If you have a sewing machine they are a snap to make, but even if you hand sew they are far from complicated.

So with a doubly environmental plan that involved buying cheap clothes at Charity stores purely for the pretty designs on the material and then recycling them into bags, I set to work.

So far I have actually used new material because I found some cheap 'fat quarters', and the bags I have made are small, but I'm going to keep making them, as and when I have time, so that by Christmas I should have a good choice.

I have used ribbon for the 'drawstring' on my bags so that they can have a bow tied at the top.

The simplest design require no finishing of raw edges, just a simple rectangle of material, wide hems sewn at each narrow end for the drawstring (ribbon) , fold the rectagle into a square, and then a quick sew together of the sides.

Two loops of ribbons are threaded through the hems and ... ta da! a drawstring bag.


Why your restaurant needs vegan options

I'm not a vegan, I'm not even a vegetarian but I think all restaurants, cafes, clubs, bars, and anywhere that serves food should ensure there are vegan options on the menu.

I don't think that because  it's not nice to eat animals (it may not be, but I still love steak and bacon), I don't think it because it's good for the planet (debatable if you look at what plants can grow where and why sheep may sometimes be the best protein creators..but also farts...) I think it because it's good business sense.

Many people are vegan these days, whether as a hipster lifestyle choice, a deep rooted love for living things or just not really liking meat, the reasons don't matter to a business, what matters is getting customers through the door.

Some cafes seem to think that one veggie option is enough. "Oh we have jacket potatoes with beans if you like, we can leave out the butter if you are vegan". The idea of 'leaving out' the meat or dairy or egg bits seems a common theme. "hmm vegan? well I think the veggie burger might be vegan, I'll leave out the brioche bun and the cheese"  Well let me tell you straight, leaving things out is not a menu option, it's lazy and it looks lazy. It also looks mean, "we'll make you a special meal by leaving stuff out and not replacing it with anything" doesn't look like you are happy to help, it looks like a begrudging afterthought.

Some eateries think it doesn't matter, after all less than 1% of the UK population is vegan and only 2% of the population is vegetarian. But if you miss those choices from your menu you don't only exclude the vegans, you exclude groups of friends where one of the group is vegan. "Shall we have Jake's party at *Umbertelli's? oh no, they have no real vegan options and Jessica won't want to come, let's go to *Palmita's instead" And the number of vegans is increasing, and they tend to be younger, more likely to eat out with friends.

It's not only vegans that benefit either, with increasing awareness of allergies a person with a dairy or egg allergy is going to opt for places with good vegan options too. Religious food restrictions can also affect people, in a multicultural society many religious people struggle to find a place to eat out that caters for them, but vegan is halal and kosher, problem solved. When I'm looking for a location for a works party or a meal out with friends I might include vegans, Muslims, vegetarians and Jews...and some allergy sufferers, it's not being 'precious' to want to be catered for at a restaurant and it's not a lot to ask for the menu to be clear about it either.

Vegan options are not difficult! Add a vegan section to your menu (and mark them as such, use a different symbol for Vegan than for Vegetarian). Examples of vegan meals include falafel wraps with salad, salads with tofu, stir fries with noodles (egg free) , vegetable soups, hummus salad sandwiches with either no spread or a dairy free spread, olives, fancy breads made with oil, pasta dishes (vegan pesto, tomato sauces etc), risottos with either no cheese or vegan cheese, vegetable burgers, stuffed peppers, garlic mushrooms (use oil or dairy-free spread),  Jus-Rol puff pastry is dairy and egg free! so you can even make some puff pastry treats with fruit or roasted vegetables. Pieminister have a vegan pie option. Vegan pizzas, lentil curries. Don't forget to add some vegan desserts too, lots of sorbets are lovely and there are plenty of vegan ice 'cream' varieties to choose from, and exotic fruits in syrup can be a lovely end to a meal.

Anyone can eat vegan, so including some vegan options on a menu doesn't restrict the menu, it expands it. Now I have a vegan daughter I can really see what a pain it is to eat out when 99% of the menu is off limits, so come on caterers, make it easier, step up and add some vegan goodies to your menus.

Are you vegan?  Where is good to eat out and which vegan things do you like to see on a menu?  I recently ate at Zizzis and they have a brilliant menu, clearly set out with vegan options. Are there other good examples out there?

The best Vegan and Vegetarian Sunday lunches in London.

Vegan and Veggie Roasts in Brighton

*not real restaurants


Vegan Chocolate and Chilli Cupcakes

I often make cupcakes, they are quick and simple.

When I was a Rainbow leader I used to make them with a team of 5 year olds, if you were wondering how easy they are are to make.

But now my teen is a vegan...yeah I know....so what to do?

Help is at hand! In the form of egg replacement. I was sceptical so I tested the Orgran brand (other brands are available), and the recipe, so that you can make them with confidence.

For a deadly twist I went for chilli chocolate flavour, but dried fruit, just chocolate, or other flavours are simple to substitute into the basic recipe.

I tend to make double this recipe and make 12 cupcakes, it's a bit odd as I realise the maths doesn't add up, but they seem to not rise as much as cakes with real eggs, feel free to experiment based on your pan/cake case size.

One of the things you will notice is that the consistency of the baked cakes is changed due to the lack of egg, the cakes don't seem to hold together as well, so always let them cool a bit before removing them from the pan, even if they are in paper cases they will still crumble if you move them when they are hot.

Using chilli oil rather than fresh chillis or crushed chillis means that the heat spreads evenly through the cakes. I decorated the cakes with vegan butter cream icing (using the non dairy margarine) and vegan chocolate drops.

Warning: depending on your chilli oil - this recipe may be extremely hot.


• 3oz Vegan (dairy free) margarine
• 2oz Sugar
• 1 egg replacement portion
• 3oz self raising flour
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
• 2 teaspoons chilli oil


Cream the margarine and sugar together.
Mix the egg replacement powder with water and add to the mix.
Add the flour and 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder.
Add 2 teaspoons chilli oil.
Divide into 8 paper cake cases.
Bake for 15 minutes at 180c/250f/gas 4.

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