Product Review: Märss Bags

Walking around London, you’d be easily convinced that there are only a handful of backpack brands (precisely which five would depend on which part of London…). I’m sure it’s the same all over the world. Thing is, I wanted a backpack that didn’t have lots of extra plastic fixings, and certainly didn’t have any leather tags or accessories, and I wanted one that was as stylish as it was practical. I thought all this was a pipe dream, until I came across Märss on Instagram. Märss produce custom bags, always made with vegan leather and upcycled materials. My bag is perfect for carrying everything I need for work, including my laptop and water bottle, and it’s just the right size for a weekend trip to visit family or a day trip out of London.

Screenshot 2016-05-07 at 5.32.37 PM
Ellie’s Marss bag, c. 60 Euro

The process is really simple and super quick for what you get – a quick email exchange through Instagram, facebook or her online store with the woman behind Märss (Liisi), explaining what you would like, and then she gets to work sourcing the relevant materials and producing your bag to your precise specifications. For example, I wanted a leopard print lining for mine, and gold coloured clasps. Lewis wanted his bag to go with his forest green coat, and have zip pockets on the side. Liisi was even able to make a custom raincover for Lewis’s bag at his request.

Screenshot 2016-05-07 at 5.34.43 PM
Lewis’s Marss Bag, also c. 60 Euro

A few weeks after receiving my bag, one of the straps broke a little – Liisi was happy to cover the costs of postage and repair, and turned that around for me really quickly. A fantastic product, and really excellent service.

It’s great to be able to support independent vegan businesses, especially when I end up with a product that’s exactly what I was after, and the service is such a high standard too. There’s loads Märss can offer in terms of customization, so if you’re after a new backpack do take a look at the website and get in touch with Liisi!

http://marssbackpack.bigcartel.com/ 

Product Review: Soap Nuts

I have read varying views on the effectiveness of soap nuts ability to clean. Given the uncertainty surrounding them I thought best to try them once and for all. Sapindus, commonly referred to as soap nuts, are a native shrub to India. It is a natural surfactant which can be used to clean ones hair, skin, laundry and as a household cleaner generally. They’re vegan and suitable for those with allergies. If this wasn’t enough it was claimed a 1kg bag – costing £11 could wash 330 loads of laundry. That’s 3.3p a load. Given the mixed reviews I thought best to sit down with a cup of tea and learn how to use them properly. The first test was laundry. 

Within the bag are two small mesh bags where you place the soap nuts for washing clothes. Having read up I noted you need more soap nuts in hard water areas. As London has horrific water I placed 10 soap nuts into the mesh bag and put them into a small jar with tap hot water and shook them up. They formed suds straight away. After watching an episode of South Park I return and placed the mesh bag with soapy water in with the clothes.

soap nuts
1kg bag of soap nuts

I didn’t use fabric conditioner but the clothes felt far softer than normal. There was not scent and the clothes were really clean. At least as clean if not more than usual. I’ve used them quite a few times now and they’re done the job. The only thing I may do is add some essential oils to add some fragrance. The soap nuts can be used four or fives times. To test them put them in a jar of warm water and shake. If they foam up you’re good to go. I’ve also used them to wash my hair and beard.

The cost of laundry cleaner and conditioner wasn’t too pricy. However, buying organic, vegan and ‘nasty’ free shampoo and conditioner is rather costly. Given I have 1kg of soap nuts I made my own shampoo. I filled an old empty bottle of shampoo with five soap nuts, some organic cold pressed argan and jojoba oil along with tea tree essential oil. Given the softness of the laundry, the addition of the oils negates the need for conditioner. I tend to leave the homemade shampoo on a little longer. My hair is left clean and soft. For my kind of hair this works better than shop bought shampoo.

For household cleaning I’ve used 10 soap nuts and placed them into an old bottle with some lemon essential oil and filtered water. I left the mixture overnight and found it turned brown. This has been used to clean worktops / dishes. It cleans effortlessly on all the household tasks I set it to. I was most surprised by its ability to clean around the house. Having read negative reviews it seems, at least anecdotally, people didn’t first soak the soap nuts.Given its cleaning ability and relative cost I’d like to continue using them. Supports highlight their environmental benefits. I’m unsure on this point. Of course there are environmental / welfare concerns with commonly used laundry products.

The nuts must been transported to the UK. There are also farming impacts to consider too. Given they are not commonly used in the UK – finding information on them have proven challenging it. I will update this post in due course and have posted it in the hope people may have answers to the following; working conditions of those involved in the supply chain, farming techniques  – organic.  environmental impact of growing and in relation to ‘mainstream’ products. Given they are able to carry out general cleaning duties it negates the need to consume multiple products, each produced and shipped in turn. On the face it would suggest the environmental impact would be less. Below is a video documenting the harvesting process in Nepal:

All information on prettygood  is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulator / EU body. Products and or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your doctor.

 

Recipe: Sudanese Falafel Dinner

This is a long-promised recipe on the blog, and one of our absolute favourite dinners. It’s based (loosely) on the incredible plates from Tutti in Berlin.

20150720_210819.jpg
The inspiration (and the best 5 Euros you can spend in Berlin)

The good news is, it’s actually pretty simple. The trickiest components are the falafel itself, and the sauce. Everything else is just (lots of; delicious) sides!

Makes enough falafel for 4 greedy people.

Falafel

  • 2 tins chickpeas, drained
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • good handful chopped fresh dill
  • salt & pepper
  • plain flour
  • baking powder
  • vegetable or sunflower oil for cooking

Whizz up a third of the chickpeas in a blender or with a hand mixer. You may need a tiny bit of water to get it going, but keep that to a minimum if you can. Bash the remaining two thirds up with a potato masher or a fork – you want to keep a bit of their structure.

Finely dice the onion and garlic, and mix together with both lots of chickpeas. Combine, and add flour a tablespoon at a time, mixing in until you have a mix that holds together when you roll it in your hand. Once you have the consistency right, add a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, the choppe20151113_201555d dill, and salt and pepper.

Roll the mixture into balls, slightly smaller than a golf ball. If they’re too large, they won’t cook in the centre.

Whilst you’re doing this, heat up the oil in a pan – be really careful if you’re doing this in a pan rather than a proper deep fat fryer. Never leave the oil unattended on the heat, and don’t overfill the pan with oil or with falafel.

We do this in a small saucepan, filled no more than halfway with oil. We then add the falafel in batches once the oil is hot (drop the heat down to medium/medium high and keep an eye on it whilst you cook – if it gets too hot, the outside will cook before the middle is done), with no more than 3 in the pan at once – adding the cold falafel will cause the oil to bubble up, and too many at once may cause the oil to bubble over the sides and catch the hob. It also lowers the temperature of the oil, so too many at once will also mean your falafel end up a bit anaemic looking, and greasier than they ought to be. Be safe, and use your common sense.

As each batch of falafel is cooked (when they’re a deep golden brown), lift them out and let them sit on a bit of kitchen roll for a while, to remove any excess oil.

20151113_202237.jpg
My hands are incredibly small, this falafel genuinely is smaller than a golf ball. 

Sauce – if you’re big on sauce, double-up the recipe

  • 2 generous tablespoons peanut butter (smooth works best, but you can use crunchy too)
  • juice of one fresh lime
  • 2-3 hot chillis
  • a little water

Put the peanut butter, lime juice, and chillis in a blender and blitz until smooth – you want the sauce hot and sour. Adjust to taste, adding more lime, chilli, or peanut butter as you like.

Add the water a tablespoon at a time and blitz again slowly. Keep adding until you have a smooth sauce.

Sides – adjust the quantities depending on how many of you there are!

  • potatoes – diced up and roasted with oil, salt, and herbs
  • carrots – chopped into sticks and roasted with oil, salt, and herbs
    • basically, any root veg you like works really well. Cut it all to the same sort of size, coat in a little oil and seasoning, and roast at 180C for about 20 mins (until soft and just browning at the edges)
  • cauliflower, broccoli, or sprouts – cut into bite sized pieces and roasted along with the root veg (but thrown in a little later)
  • olives
  • hummus
  • flatbread (we usually pick one up from our local turkish supermarket)
  • You can also include slabs or cubes of fried smoked tofu if you want to, to make the meal extra filling
  • pickles – if you can get that bright pink pickled turnip, it goes perfectly. Otherwise, gherkins and jalapenos do a fantastic job.

20151112_195323.jpg

 

Recipe: Easy Mexican Dinner

burrito IG

This is one of the first vegan things I attempted to cook – I wasn’t actually vegan at the time, but I’d just started dating one and was looking for ways to tick that “the way to his heart is through his stomach” box (this dish *totally* helped).

There are a few elements, but I’d say none of them are especially demanding in terms of time, effort, or skill, and at the end of it you get a huge, satisfying, nutritionally ACE meal that has satisfied even the fussiest omnivores and vegans alike.

You can prep the butternut squash ahead of time, and then whip up the other two elements whilst it’s in the oven.

I serve mine with guacamole, a quick tomato salsa, and salad. I’ll mention how I do those at the end, but I suspect you have your own go-to recipes and who am I to change them (or to tell you how to make a salad)?

The fillings I use are:

  • Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash
  • ‘Red Rice’ (roasted red pepper)
  • Black Beans

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash

  • 1 butternut squash20150225_181403
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Coriander Seeds
  • Garlic (ideally smoked) – at least two cloves, but this household has a 4 clove minimum!
  • Dried Chilli – at least 1, but the squash is sweet enough to take a fair old hit of spice. I do 3.
  • Grated nutmeg

This is slightly adapted from a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s first book. To be honest, I change up the spice mix depending on what I have in the cupboard, what else I’m serving it with, and who I’m cooking for. This dish also makes a great side dish for a roast, with sausages, or thrown into a risotto or a salad.

Preheat the oven to 180c

Peel the squash and cut it in half. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and pulpy bit. There’s a kind of sweet spot where the texture changes, so if you can find this with the side of your spoon, the seeds and all their gunk comes out in one easy go. If you can’t, just keep scraping until the inside of the hole is the same colour as the rest of the flesh.

Cut the squash into 1 inch cubes (if you’re doing this as a side dish, it’s really nice to do big wedges the length of the squash, but they don’t fit well into a wrap situation!).

Throw the squash into a mixing bowl and drizzle on a generous couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Bash the coriander seeds in a pestle & mortar, and then throw the (peeled) garlic and the dried chillis in too. Bash them all up a bit.

Chuck the mixture into the bowl with the squash, and salt and pepper, grate on some nutmeg and toss it all around with your hands until everything is coated. The longer you leave this to sit and infuse, the better. If you can manage to do it in the morning before going about your business (cover it, obviously) then you’ll have extra tasty squash at the end.

20-30 minutes before you’re ready to eat, tip the whole contents of the bowl onto a baking tray and place in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Check after 20, in case the squash is catching and needs an oil top up. I like my squash soft, with browned/caramelised edges. Delicious.

Red Rice

  • 1 cup ricered rice
  • 1 or 2 romero red peppers (the long thin ones)
  • Smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is something I sort of blagged the first time, and then it was so tasty I’ve made it loads of times since. It is SO easy.

Preheat the oven to 180c (if your squash is already in, move the squash to a lower shelf and pop the peppers on the top shelf)

Cook the rice as you usually would (for me, this is 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of cold water. Put the rice and water in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Add salt and cover, leave for 14 minutes. Do not remove the lid until the end of the time (and yes, I mean 14. Not 15, trust me)!

Whilst the rice is cooking, coat the peppers in a little bit of olive oil, and put in the oven at 180c, with a bit of seasoning on top.

Red Rice!When the peppers are soft and have started to go ever so slightly browned around the edges, they’re ready for the next stage. This should take about 10 minutes, 15 at a push. Lift them (gently, they’ll be fragile!) into a plastic sandwich bag and seal it. Leave this for a few minutes – the steam inside the bag separates the flesh from the skins, which can be a little tough, and makes it easy for you to skin the peppers, remove the seeds and stalk, and throw them into a blender.20150225_182441

Add the tomato puree, smoked paprika, and a touch of olive oil to loosen the mixture, and blitz to a smooth paste. Season to taste.

Stir the paste through the cooked rice, et voila!

Black Beans

  • 2x 400g tins of black beans
  • at least 2 cloves of garlic (I’m more of a 4 girl myself)
  • 2 shallots, or 1 red onion
  • Smoked salt (if you can’t get hold of it, normal salt is fine) & pepper
  • Smoked paprika (if you don’t like too much smokiness, go standard on either the paprika or the salt!)
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • Olive oil

Drain and rinse 1 of the tins of black beans and put it in the blender (sorry, you’ll have to wash your blender up at least once to do all 3 items, unless you have 2!).

Add the garlic, shallots, tomato puree, salt, pepper and paprika. Add a bit of olive oil to loosen it up and blitz to a paste.

Tip the paste into a saucepan and fry. If it sticks right away, add a touch more olive oil. you wanBlack Beanst to cook out the onions in this stage, so give it five minutes or so. You’ll need to keep stirring so it doesn’t go sticky just yet.

Once the onions have cooked (this won’t take too long, as they’ve been blitzed in the blender) add the other tin of beans, including the liquid. Combine fully and turn down to a simmer. You want these to be sticky rather than runny, but you don’t want them to burn. If they’re already pretty solid, add a bit of water so you can simmer them for a bit and let the flavours come together.

That’s it!

I serve these with:20150225_184517

A tomato salsa – super simple, just fresh tomatoes and a red onion diced up finely and placed in a bowl with fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, and fresh chopped coriander leaves. This provides some much needed freshness to cut through all the delicious smoky stodge in the recipes above!

A crisp salad – I try and get some fresh greens in pretty much every meal, and these will provide some much needed crunch. Depends on what I’ve got in – some cos or little gem lettuce, cucumber, and even grated raw beetroot all go really well in this dish. Throw on some toasted pumpkin seeds if you want some extra crunch or protein.

Guacamole – as if you can have a burrito without guac! I prefer a simple guac, so mine is just mashed up avocado, fresh lime, salt and pepper. I make it ahead of time so I can chill it a bit before serving

I buy my tortilla wraps because life is too short (just double-check they don’t have milk or milk-products in). My wrap technique is to fill a strip in the centre of the wrap, leaving a good 3 inches clear at the bottom. I fold up that clear bottom part first, then bring the sides round. It’s not foolproof, but it’s my tried and tested method as a tiny-handed greedy person 🙂

This is one of my absolute favourite dinners, and is quick enough to do on a weeknight (especially if you have a helper to do some chopping and washing up for you along the way) – there’s nothing better than unwrapping a leftover burrito for lunch on a drab Wednesday 🙂

Recipe: Super Easy Katsu Curry

I’ve looked at loads of katsu recipes online, and their ingredients lists vary so wildly in length and contents, that I ended up winging it a bit based on the ingredients that sounded good to me. Fortunately for me, the experiment worked and has been declared by various diners as “SO GOOD” and “the best sauce I have ever had”. So, with the modesty out of the way, let’s get saucy (sorry).

Katsu Sauce

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 inch cube fresh root ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 x eating apples, peeled, cored, and roughly diced
  • 1 stingy tbsp coconut oil
  • liquid aminos or soy sauce to taste
  • 1-2 tbsps sriracha (depending on how hot you like it, and based on the regular sriracha – adjust accordingly if you have the extra hot!)
  • 1 pint water

EITHER

OR

  • 2-3 tsps curry powder

Sweat the onion, garlic and ginger gently in the coconut oil until soft.

When soft, add the apples and the spice blend or curry powder (whichever you’re using/have in the katsuprogresscupboard) and cook through for a couple of minutes

Add 2-3 tbsps of water to help the apple soften. Once fairly soft, and the rest of the water and the sriracha, and simmer

Once the apple is completely soft, blitz with a hand blender until smooth, and add the liquid aminos/soy sauce to taste (they’re used in this recipe in place of salt).

That’s it. Seriously. This makes enough sauce for 4 people (or two greedy people who want to have half of it on a chippy tea the next day)

What to serve it with

Instead of chicken, I usually do either roasted butternut squash or crispy fried tofu. Sometimes I do both 🙂

For the tofu, before akatsudonenything else I press it. If you’re reading this with a view to cooking tofu for the first time ever, or maybe you have a vegan or veggie friend coming for dinner and you want to make something for everyone, here is the single secret to cooking tofu: YOU HAVE TO PRESS IT. Between two plates, under something heavy (I use 4 hardback cookbooks or my pasta machine) for at least 90 minutes, but several hours is best. This makes it a) way easier to cut and work with and b) much more pleasant to eat.

Once pressed, I slice it into slabs and coat it in fine semolina with a bit of turmeric powder run through it. I’ve experimented, and I think the best way to coat the tofu is to put the semolina in a sandwich bag and gently toss the tofu in there one piece at a time. Be gentle!

Shallow fry the coated tofu in the oil of your choice, but think about flavour – coconut oil is nice with the right dishes, but vegetable or groundnut is less likely to overshadow the flavour of your dish. Olive is an absolute no-no (it burns at too low a heat, and will impart a lot of flavour to the tofu that you don’t want).

Serve with sushi rice and some greens quickly fried in a wok and dressed with soy, garlic, ginger and chilli. Enjoy!

Product Review: Washed Out Body Butter

Yes, we’ve featured Washed Out before. However, this isn’t favouritism so much as another really great product from these lovely folks!*

The new Body Butter from Washed Out is a real star product. Great on Lewis’ beard as much as his face, and fantastic for Ellie’s combination skin.

E: With my combination skin, I really struggle to find a single product that can handle the dry patches I get during winter, and the oily bits I have on my face pretty much year-round. I was expecting the Washed Out butter to be primarily used for dry elbows and hands, but when it came I was suffering a really painful dry skin day on my face, so just slathered it on to my freshly cleaned face.

Washed_Out_Barista_Butter
£12 for 100g, £7 for 50g

The butter has a really light texture for a product like this, and absorbs into the skin really well. After a minute or two, it makes the perfect base for make-up too, and the Barista coffee-scented butter is great for a wake-up in the morning! If coffee isn’t your thing, there’s an unscented version, and a lovely sounding ‘Six More Weeks of Winter’, which is scented with rosemary, bergamot and pine essential oils.

100g is £12, and our 50g (£7) pot is about halfway through after 6 weeks, with two of us using it. I’d say that’s pretty decent value for such an effective product which feels like a real treat to use.

*for the absolute avoidance of doubt, we bought this product ourselves as we wanted it – Washed Out have never sent us freebies to review or paid us for reviews.

Inspirational Women

It’s International Women’s Day on 8th March, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to seek out some inspirational women working to improve the sustainability and ethics of our environment. We’ve tried to feature a broad range here, but there are absolutely gaps and unsung heroes out there, so please please mention your own picks in the comments, or drop us an email at prettygoodldn@gmail.com and we’ll update!

For the most part, we’ve found a video of these women talking about their work – we’re big believers in amplifying the voices of others rather than regurgitating their words as our own. Take a minute, grab a cuppa, and listen to what these inspiring women have to say about the world.

Reni Eddo-Lodge

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a journalist and writer, a black feminist who is extremely articulate on the topic of intersectionality. She has a book coming out in 2017, which arose from a blog post “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. Well worth a read. (She’s vegan too, if that’s your flex).

Wangari Maathai

(1940-2011) A trailblazer in many senses of the word, Wangari was the first woman from East and Central Africa to obtain a doctoral degree, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her commitment to “sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Her work promoted “ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.”

She established the Green Belt Movement, who continue her work today, taking an active role in discussions and advocacy around climate change, tree planting and water conservation, and highlighting the links between human activity and the environment.

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva focuses primarily on issues surrounding biodiversity and the use of non-renewable seed crops, as well as their impact on global poverty, food production, and agricultural practices.

Majora Carter

Majora Carter is an environmental justice campaigner, working to bring positive environment change to areas in urban environments, challenging the statistical norms around access to green environment along class, race, and income lines. In the impassioned TED talk linked above, she outlines how these schemes generate benefit for the local environment, and its inhabitants, in really diverse ways. A real firebrand – inspirational!

Safia Minney

Safia Minney is the founder of People Tree, successfully bringing organic cotton and slow fashion to the mainstream. Her business launches have typically been guided by her own desires to be an ethical consumer, and she talks about that a little in the video above.

Anna Lappe

 Anna Lappe is a ‘Food Mythbuster’, and the video above she unpicks some of the ideas around industrialised agriculture.

There are also some great grassroots movements and individuals effecting change out there, and these are just a handful of the ones we came across whilst researching this piece. Again, if your favourite is missing, let us know!