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Artisan Rosemary Focaccia Bread- RECIPE

This heavenly artisan rosemary focaccia will make your break your ‘diet’ and fill your tummy with amazing, fresh, home-cooked bread goodness. Perfect with a bowl of healthy veggie and lentil soup or as part of an easy, inexpensive lunch.

It’s really simple to make, my son LOVES the crunchy toasted rosemary leaves on top and it’s impressive enough for a family gathering or something slightly more formal. Here’s how to make it.

Makes: 12 generous pieces

Ingredients

  • 500g flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 330ml hand-hot water
  • Fresh rosemary, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing.

Method

  1. Place the flour into your bowl and add the dried yeast and the salt. Make sure these two stay separate at the beginning.
  2. Now mix together, and slowly add the water.
  3. Stir well with your hand until a dough forms (warning- this bit can get messy so beware if you don’t like sticky hands!)
  4. Now tip onto your work surface and knead well for around ten minutes until it turns into a smooth and soft dough. (But honestly, I rarely knead for a whole ten minutes- I’ve made so much bread over the years that I know when it’s ready to prove.)
  5. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 90mins until double in size. Keep it our of draughts and directly sunlight for this time.
  6. Meanwhile, grease a large roasting tin with oil and set to one side.
  7. When your dough is looking good, tip back onto a well-floured surface and roll out until it will fit your tin.
  8. Place into the tin, stretching well to fit and pushing your fingers into the surface to create that dimpled effect. Cover again and leave for a further 30 mintes-1 hour.
  9. Remove the tea towel, brush the surface of the dough with olive oil, cover with as much fresh rosemary as you like, sprinkle with sea salt then place in the middle of your oven.
  10. Turn the oven on to 220C and bake for 15 minutes, then check. Remove from the tin and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until nice and crispy underneath. You might want to adjust timings depending on your oven- we have an electric non-fan oven which cooks from beneath.
  11. Serve and enjoy!

 

Why You Should Consider Getting a Housesitter or Petsitter

One of the most stressful parts of organising a holiday is working out who on earth is going to take care of your pets and home.

Because if you’re anything like us, you really love your pets and you don’t want to just bundle them off into a boarding kennel whilst you go off and have fun. Nor do you want to leave your plants to wither and die, or leave your home vulnerable to thieves.

It can become all become a bit of a headache, so much so that you might even start rethinking the holiday.

But it doesn’t need to be so stressful or complicated– simply get yourself a housesitter or petsitter (like us!). Housesitter and petsitters are like a modern Mary Poppins – they’re take care of it all so you can enjoy your holiday, safe in the knowledge that your pets and home are perfectly taken care of. Brilliant, eh?

Here are 8 really compelling reasons why you should get a housesitter when you go on your hols.

1. You won’t need to put your sweet pets in a boarding kennel

As a kid, I always felt sad when we put the family pet into a boarding kennel whilst we went off to have fun in the sun somewhere. They just seemed like such cold and unwelcoming places where your pets are likely to catch illnesses whilst they’re locked up for most of the day. **sad face**…

That’s not even mentioning the fact that they’re really expensive!

We can take care of your pets in their own home so you can enjoy your holiday guilt-free, knowing that your pets are happy and getting plenty of love and attention for free.

2. Your pets can stick to the same routine.

playing with the dog on the beach

Without a regular routine, pets (and kids!) can get really sad and grumpy.

When we housesit, we can stick to the same routine your pets are used to so the disruption is minimal. This might enjoy having walks at several times throughout the day, indulging in a little mid-afternoon fresh prawn snack or even just a back scratch. We can do it all. 🙂

3. Your pets will be much less stressed

calm pets

There’s no avoiding the fact that your pets will miss you when you travel- they have a close bond with you and love you to bits.

We can help them through by providing plenty of love, affection, understanding and TLC until you return so they stay calm and contented throughout.

4. You’ll deter thieves and validate your insurance

safe home

The fact that there’s someone present in your home will deter thieve and also help validate your home insurance (many policies require that there’s someone present at all times. Check your policy to find out more)

5. Your plants will get plenty of TLC

plants

I LOVE plants and before we were location independent, I surrounded myself with them! This means that I’m more than happy to take care of yours whilst you’re away and get my gardening fix, as are many other housesitters.

6. You won’t need to ask family and friends for favours

Let’s face it- it can be awkward asking friend and family for favours- they’re likely to say ‘Yes’ just to do you a favour when they’re not really happy about it and it will be inconvenient for you them too. Protect your relationship and let us happily do it instead!

7. You’ll save money

money

We don’t charge for our services as we genuinely love animals and strongly believe in the philosophy of exchanging services instead. It’s a win-win arrangement for you, your pets, your home and for us too.

Of course, that also means more spending money for your holiday! Yay!

8. You’ll be able to relax and enjoy your holiday even more

hammock

Knowing that your pets and home are in great, trustworthy hands really makes the difference to your holiday. You can relax, unwind and make the most of your holiday, then return home to a calm, contented pet, and a clean, well cared-for home.

As you can see, getting a housesitter is a brilliant way to enjoy having pets whilst still being free to travel whenever you want to. Let us take care of your beloved pets and take care of your home exactly as you would so you can really enjoy the kind of holiday you deserve.

rafi and rosie

If you’d like us to come and take care of your pets and home whilst you travel, or you’d like to find out more about having a housesitter, please do get in touch by clicking here.

How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut- RECIPE

Sauerkraut is a delicious, easy-to-make fermented food that’s made with one of my least favourite veggies- the dull white cabbage. Thanks to the magic of fermentation, it’s transformed from boring and tasteless to salty, tender and amazingly good for you.

Even though you might think of sauerkraut as being a German or Eastern European dish, it actually has it’s origins way back in ancient China when fermentation was one of the only ways to preserve food. After all, there were no fridges, freezers, or preservative chemicals back then.

We love the stuff because it tastes amazing and it’s packed with a ton of nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and gut-friendly probiotics. These are wonderful for your health and have all kinds of benefits, including easing any gut issues, helping rebalance your hormones, easing stress and depression, boosting your intake of B-complex vitamins and much more.

So, now that autumn is here and we’re getting more and more stormy days we thought we’d have fun making some new batches of sauerkraut. Now we’re here to share the process with you.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a really straightforward process that happens when  bacteria feeds on sugar within the food and breaks it down, producing lactic acid which produces that distinctive tart taste.

With sauerkraut, this bacteria is from the lactobacillus family. These bacteria naturally live on fruit, veggies, on our skin and in our bodies plus they’re wonderful for your gut health and can really help hit that reset button when it comes to your digestive health.

Why would you want to make your own sauerkraut?

Of course, you could just pop to the supermarket and buy yourself a jar of sauerkraut from the shelves, but this is likely to be relatively expensive (it’s more than €3.50 per tiny jar over here in the Azores!). If you find it on the shelf (not in a fridge), it’s almost certain to have been pasturised. This kills the healthy bacteria and pretty much defies the whole point of eating sauerkraut.

Not only is it much better, much cheaper and completely fascinating to make it yourself, it’s also a simple fermentation process that you can get your kids involved with, you’ll be saving the world from plastic waste and it just takes a couple of ingredients plus some patience.

Here’s how to make your very own sauerkraut.

Recipe: Easy Homemade Sauerkraut

Grab your kids, take a deep breath and get creating your first batch of sauerkraut. It’s easier than you think!

Ingredients

  • 2 heads of cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced

Equipment

  • 1 mason jar or clean jam jar
  • Pestle (the ‘club’ from a pestle and mortar)
  • Large bowl

Method

  1. Before you do anything else, make sure everything is clean. Wash your hands really well with soap and give the mason jar, chopping board, knife, pestle and anything else you’re using a really good wash. This will kill any unwanted bacteria which could ruin your creation.
  2. Now slice the cabbage into very thin strips and place into a large bowl, followed by the garlic.
  3. Sprinkle the cabbage and garlic with the salt, then start to squish with the pestle.
  4. Keep squishing patiently until the cabbage starts to release its liquid. Keep doing this until there’s enough liquid to completely cover the cabbage in the jar.
  5. Carefully place into the mason jar, pushing the veggies down hard with your pestle so they pack tightly and sink below the level of the brine. This bit is really important- for fermentation to occur, you need to keep the cabbage away from the air. If this doesn’t happen, simply top up with a little extra water.
  6. Pop on the lid, then place somewhere at room temperature for around 2 weeks until perfectly fermented. You’ll need to ‘burb’ the sauerkraut every day to release the pressure- something my 8 year old son really loves.
  7. After two weeks, place into the fridge to stop the fermentation process then serve and enjoy. I love it as an extra with my salad, but you can also add it to soups, veggies and other foods.

If you’d rather see the recipe than read it, check out this great video from Living Food Project. (They don’t use exactly the same technique but it all works 🙂

10 Easy Ways You Can Reduce Your Plastic Waste

Walking around here on the island, I’m constantly shocked to see how much plastic rubbish gets washed up.

Just after a big storm or especially high tide, it’s even worse and we find everything from plastic bottles, old flip flops, plastic bags, fragments of bigger pieces of plastic, a shocking number of plastic micro-beads, and much more besides.

And it gets me all worked up and determined to reduce my plastic waste so I can stop having such an impact on the world.

Because all of this plastic isn’t just unslightly- it’s quite literally killing our planet.

Turtles end up getting trapped in those plastic six-pack rings or mistakenly eating plastic bags that they think are jellyfish. Sea birds have their stomachs packed with plastic waste and slowly starve to death. Increasing numbers of whales are getting washed up on beaches across the world, their stomachs packed with plastic.

But we don’t just have to sit back and let this happen. We can develop clever habits, make better choices and start reducing our plastic consumption so that the world doesn’t have to suffer. It doesn’t need to mean trying to ditch plastic altogether, just doing what you can.

Here are ten easy ways you can reduce your plastic waste and make a difference.

PS no affiliate links here- just sharing useful links 🙂

1. Take reusable shopping bags with you

Considering that most places in Europe now charge for plastic bags, it should be second nature for you to grab your own reusable bags to take to the supermarket with you.

If not, you need to make it a habit- most plastic bags are only ever used once for the short journey between making your purchase and getting home. Then either they get reused and thrown away, soon to end up washing into streams, rivers or even into the ocean where they then end up in the stomachs of animals like turtles, whales and sea birds.

I’ll admit that it does take a bit of practice to take reusable bags with you in the first place but it does get easier. A great trick is to pop them into your bag so you always have them there in case of any last-minute purchases.

2. Skip those plastic produce bags (and never buy pre-packed fruit and veggies- eugh!)

One of my pet hates has always been fresh fruits and veggies that are sold loose (yay!) but you’re expected to use one of those thin, nasty plastic bags to actually buy them.

Not only does using these things defy the whole point of buying loose produce (don’t even get me started on the horrors of prepacked fruits and vegetables!!), but those bags barely last a minute.

You struggle to get them off the roll, ripping holes in several as you do so, struggle to get them open, struggle to tie them closed and struggle to get the food out once you finally do get home. And that’s if you avoid the type of catastrophic breakage where you watch as the bag breaks and your apples go bouncing down the supermarket aisle, or merrily across your kitchen floor. Aaaargh!!

But there IS an alternative- buy or make your own produce bags. You can easily buy them online (I love these), or you can borrow a sewing machine, take some thin fabric and make your own quickly and easily.

3. Meal plan then make a shopping list

notepad

When I first met my boyfriend, he was really surprised/amazed/bemused that I’d grab a pen and paper and start planning the week’s meals before we went shopping, then create our shopping list from this.

But as time has gone on, he’s realised how much simpler this makes our lives. It makes meal time much easier as we don’t have to ponder what on earth we can make, plus it helps avoid costly last-minute trips to the supermarket, impulse-buying and really reduces the waste we produce. It’s a minimalist’s dream!

This doesn’t need to be anything complicated!

I simply take a scrap of paper (usually the back of a receipt that they HAVE to give you here) and scribble the days of the week on the back. Then I run though possible meals we can eat on each day, and use this to decide what we need to buy.

Quite often we don’t exactly stick to what’s written down- perhaps we arrive home late one day or we don’t fancy eating what I have there, but it’s a great guideline for us. The Minimalist Mom has a great article on the benefits and how to do it for yourself if you want to know more.

4. Stop using plastic bottles

plastic bottle

Did you know that a million plastic bottles are bought every minute?

Let that sink in a moment…A million. That means that in the time it takes to boil a kettle, 4,000,000 more plastic bottles have been bought and discarded across the globe, 480,000,000 bottles during the time you’re tucked up in bed, dreaming happily.

Imagine what that actually looks like….And all of these bottles don’t just disappear once they’re used- instead they end up in landfill or washed into the rivers or sea, filling our oceans with yet more plastic waste. It feels almost apocalyptic.

But I doesn’t have to be like this. Just stop using them.

Drink tap water or filter your own. Avoid buying fizzy drinks (soda), energy drinks, juice and smoothies, even if they’re made by an eco-friendly company and instead make your own or switch to water, tea and coffee instead.

5. Ditch those coffee pods and teabags

teabags contain plastic

Sorry if I’m about to offend anyone here, but I think coffee pods are crazy silly.

You’re paying over the odds for these single serve capsules which contain just a tiny portion of coffee which you slide into an overpriced machine and get a tiny cup of coffee from it. And that’s not even mentioning the shocking amount of plastic that these things contain.

The German city of Hamburg has actually banned these things in an attempt to take better care of the environment, saying, “These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminium.”

Don’t feel smug if you don’t drink coffee- using tea bags is just as bad. These are made from plastic too which leeches nasty chemicals into your hot drink and of course adds to the plastic waste problem. Most tea bags also come wrapped in plastic, plastic and more plastic, so they really are best avoided.

If you’re a coffee-lover like me, use loose coffee and use a coffee pot instead- it uses far less waste, tastes much better and smells incredible when it’s brewing in your kitchen. You can even try growing your own coffee for extra eco-points.

If you love tea, use loose leaf tea and compost it when you’re finished. Brilliant!

6. Just say no. To a straw, that is.

straw

Ready for another scary statistic?

An incredible 500 million straws are used every single day in the US, and these have an average lifespan of just 20 minutes before they’re thrown away. What really gets me about this is that straws are completely frivolous- they’re not an essential part of life. Sure- they might make your fancy cocktail or smoothie look pretty but they’re optional.

If you absolutely must use a straw, why not get hold of a reusable glass straw or a bamboo version instead?

For more information on the dangers of plastic straws, watch the following short video and visit The Plastic Pollution Coalition website.

7. Ditch the plastic wrap and ziplock bags

plastic wrap

You’ve got leftovers and you want to avoid food waste and keep them to eat later? Great!

But don’t make the mistake of pulling out a large roll of plastic wrap or throwing your food into a plastic ziplock bag (baggie) because you’re unwittingly contributing to the global plastic problem.

There are plenty of better storage solutions for your food that don’t involve single-use plastic.  If you’re going to eat that food within the next day or so, simply pop a plate over the top before placing in the fridge. You can also use reusable plastic boxes like used and washed ice-cream tubs, or other stuff you already have knocking around at home. If you do, please don’t buy more plastic storage.

The best option is to reuse your glass jam jars or mason jars and store your food inside these.

8. Cook from scratch whenever possible

cook from scratch

By far, the best way to reduce your plastic waste is to flex your kitchen muscles and get creative by cooking your own food. Processed food always comes in a ton of plastic packaging which you really want to be avoiding if you care about the planet.

Not just that, but home-cooked food tastes much more delicious, it’s almost always healthier than the processed version and learning how to cook it is a great way to improve your skills. Instead of automatically buying something from the supermarket, why not hop online and see if you can find a DIY recipe instead.

9. Use a mooncup (girls only, obviously!)

Mooncups are amazing. Really. I wish I’d learned about them when I was younger as they have transformed how I feel about my period, how I feel when I’m ‘on’ my period and of course, how much plastic waste I’m completing.

I’ll be honest- the idea of having a reusable menstrual cup always appealed to be, but despite my eco-friendly tendencies, I wasn’t brave enough. I always presumed they’d be messy, horrible and useless, but nothing could be further than the truth.

Buy one and you’ll find out for yourself 🙂 If you’re not keen on the idea, you can also buy reusable cloth pads or make your own. I should mention that mooncups and cloth pads do cost slightly more than the disposable kind, but they soon pay for themselves.

10. Use real soap!

soap

Are you using liquid soap to wash your hands? Perhaps it’s even an antibacterial one?

STOP and go back to using a regular bar soap instead. It’s much more hygienic than you think, it’s cheaper and it really helps reduce your plastic waste.

I should also mention that antibacterial liquid soap is also quite harmful for your health- there’s a growing body of evidence that it can contribute to antibiotic resistance.

 

I’m not asking you to go zero-waste. At least, not just yet (*wink*).

But I am asking that you take a few easy steps towards reducing the impact your have upon the world by making a few small changes to your habits.
I’ve shared ten ways you can reduce your plastic waste here so help you get started, but there’s much more you can do.

Please, follow the links, read more about global plastic pollution and become more mindful about how you spend your money.

Simple Black Eyed Pea Salad- RECIPE

Black eyed peas are one of those legumes that my son and I hadn’t really eaten much of until recently. We tended to stick to the regular chickpea-red kidney bean-pinto bean combo with the occasional serving of black beans for good measure.

And it wasn’t that we had anything against black eyed peas exactly, just that they didn’t really get us feeling excited. So we just walked on past whenever we visited the supermarket. You probably do the same.

However, that all changed when we visited a cheap-but-cheerful buffet called Avozinha and I sunk my teeth into that mouth-watering black eyed pea salad.

Not only was it the perfect wholefood vegetarian/vegan option (and so a rare find for the Azores), it also contained the perfect balance of crunchy veggies, soft tender fluffy beans and tangy vinegar with a touch of oil. I was instantly hooked!

So over the next few weeks, I made it my mission to recreate this nutrient-rich healthy, and utterly delicious salad and wave my culinary magic wand over it.

Here is the result. It’s rich in protein, contains brilliant amounts of iron. Folic acid, potassium and vitamin A plus tons of other vitamins and minerals and makes a brilliant lunch or side dish. Here’s how to make it.

Ingredients

  • 500g cooked black eyed peas
  • 2-4 spring onions, sliced
  • ¼ red pepper, diced
  • Fresh parsley or wild spinach
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons vinegar (works brilliantly with white wine vinegar or balsamic)

Method

  1. Start by draining and rinsing your black eyed peas. We use the pre-cooked variety in jars for convenience and they come with tons of gunk! Throw them into a bowl.
  2. Now chop your spring onions, red pepper and parsley or spinach and throw that in too. Top with the salt and pepper, then the oil and vinegar and toss well to combine.
  3. Serve and enjoy!

That’s exactly how I like my food- simple, nutritious and very very tasty! Make sure you give it a try!

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Easy Homemade Black Olive & Thyme Bread- RECIPE

Since I saw the Netflix documentary “A Plastic Ocean” last weekend, I’ve been back on my zero-plastic kick and trying hard to reduce the amount of plastic we use and dispose of on a daily basis. (If you haven’t seen the film, I really recommend that you do. It’s very eye-opening!)

We’re already pretty plastic-conscious (we don’t use plastic bags, or plastic food wrap, or single-use plastics etc), but we realised that there’s so much more we can do to further minimise how much plastic we’re using. When I took a closer look at what we were using, I realised that we accumulate 7-10 small plastic bags every week just from eating bread. And even though we save those bags and reuse them, it all adds up over time.

So my mission became to make all our own bread from scratch. For a family like mine who LOVES bread and has a very healthy appetite, this is quite some mission. We can easily get through a whole load of homemade bread in one sitting!

But I didn’t let that deter me- I’d rather make the effort every morning to produce fresh bread from scratch instead of risking yet more turtles dying from mistakenly eating plastic bags…

And you know what? Fresh bread is far healthier and it also smells and tastes heavenly, especially when you’re eating it straight from the oven! Especially this black olive and thyme bread. It’s easy to make, doesn’t take too much hands-on effort and you’ll be rewarded with broad smiles from your whole family. Here’s the recipe 🙂

Ingredients

  • 500g all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 330ml water (hand hot)
  • 1 teaspoon dried yeast
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 100g black olives, chopped

Method

  1. Take an nice big bowl and place into it the flour followed by the salt, the yeast and the dried thyme. Try to place the salt and the yeast on opposite sides of your bowl- it’s better that they don’t touch until later in the mixing process. Stir well to combine.
  2. Next add the olive oil and the chopped black olives, and mix again.
    Finally, gently pour some of your water into the flour mixture and start to stir. Keep adding the water until you’ve used most of it.
  3. Keep stirring until it gets difficult, and then switch to using your hands to pull everything together. I like to pour the mixture onto my clean work surface to do this bit- I have more space and it’s easier to bring it all together. Add more water or a sprinkle more flour if needed. (if the dough sticks to the work surface, sprinkle a small amount of flour underneath.)
  4. When your dough is starting to come together, start to knead the dough. If you’re a bread newbie, have a look at the video below on how to knead bread dough
  5. When your dough looks lovely and smooth springs back easily after you press a finger into it it’s ready to prove. Cover with a clean teatowel or a clean plastic bag and leave somewhere warm-ish for around 1 ½-2 hours until doubled in size.
  6. Remove from the bowl, knead it for minute or two and then shape as required. I take our big knife and cut into eight pieces, then form eight olive bread rolls and place onto a pregreased baking tray.
  7. Next preheat the oven to 180℃ and leave the rolls to prove again for around 30 minutes.
  8. Place the rolls into the oven and cook for around 30 minutes until lightly browned and cooked in the inside.
  9. Serve warm for best results.

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Foolproof Pizza Base – RECIPE

You’ve decided to make your own healthy pizza from scratch- yay!

But you’re scratching your head in confusion and heading to the supermarket to look for a pre-made pizza base you can use. Noooo!!!!

Stop right there! There’s no need to undo much of your healthy eating intentions just because you’ve never made pizza base from scratch before, you’re short on time or you’re just scared it will all go horribly wrong.

It’s far easier to make your own delicious pizza base than you’ve ever imagined and it’s a lot of fun too.

Taking just 10 minutes of prep time, you can walk away for a hour or two and return to find springy, light and delicious dough ready to shape into the yummiest pizza bases ever. At least, that’s what my 8 year old son thinks!

Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 500g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon instant dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 330ml water approx. (ever so slightly warm- more on that later!)

Method

  1. Start by weighing out your flour into a big bowl, and then adding the yeast and the salt. Give it a quick mix.
  2. Next boil a small amount of water in the kettle and add to a measuring jug. Top up with cold water until the temperature roughly feels the same as your hand. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT- if the water is too cold, the yeast won’t work, and if it’s too hot, you’ll just kill the yeast. Pour away any excess water until you have 330ml.
  3. Slowly add the water to your flour mixture, stirring well as you do so. At one point, it will get so thick that you can’t stir any more. That means it’s time to get your hands dirty! Continue to mix, pulling everything together until a ball of dough forms.
  4. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and gently knead until it gets light, smooth to the touch and springs back quickly when you place your finger onto it.
  5. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or (reusable) piece of plastic and leave to prove for 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. If it’s cooler, you’ll need more time and if it’s warmer, you’ll need less. You want your dough to more or less double in size.
  6. Voila- it’s done! To cook, you can either cut, roll out and press onto a greased baking tray before adding your toppings, or you can follow my father’s pre-cook method (see below).
  7. Precook method: Cut the dough into six equally-sized pieces, then one by one, roll out flat using a rolling pin and plenty of flour to prevent sticking. Meanwhile, warm a large non-stick frying pan/wok/paella pan with a tiny drop of oil. When the dough is at the size you want, pop into the pan and gently cook for a few minutes until bubbles have sprung up and it’s nice and brown. Flip over and repeat on the other side, then remove and place to one side. Repeat with the remaining dough. Done!

This pizza base recipe is an absolute winner- I’ve used it for years now and we continue to enjoy it on a weekly basis. I hope you love it too.

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6 Essential Haircare Tips that Every Swimmer/ Surfer/ Beach-Lover Should Know

I love everything about the ocean.

You probably already know that about me. You’ve likely heard me squeal with excitement when I see a fish that I’ve never spotted before when I’m snorkeling, or heard me exhale happily as the ocean breathes up and down which I’m right there in the water, or grin as I watch another wave explode on the cliffs as I watch.

But, as much as I hate to admit it (shhhh….don’t tell anyone!), there’s something I’m not so keen on when it comes to the ocean.

And that’s the awful damage that all that salt water does to your hair.

It dries it out, it makes it break off, it causes split ends and fragile ‘inbetweens’ and… well, put it this way, it’s not pretty.

So whilst I’m very much the natural beauty queen, I really do make an exception when it comes to protecting my hair from the effects of the ocean. Well…I don’t want to start scaring people, do I?

I’m sure you don’t either, so read these five surf/swim/beach haircare tips, do what’s necessary to stay looking gorgeous and then get on with having fun in the sea. Deal?
 

#1: Protect your hair with coconut oil before you get into the sea

coconut oil will protect your hair

Before you set foot in the ocean, protect your hair by gently massaging pure coconut oil into the bottom three inches (about 7 ½ cm). Then give it a comb through and you’re ready to indulge your passion for all things salty and watery!

I especially love this tip because you don’t need to use nasty chemical haircare products which pollute the ocean and kill fish. Simply 100% natural, easy to find in most places (even here in the Azores) and pretty affordable too.

Of course, you could also use regular store-bought conditioner, but make sure you’re using an ocean-friendly brand, please.
 

#2: Always rinse your hair with fresh water

shower

Don’t let that salt keep drying out your beautiful sun-kissed locks and turning them to straw after you’ve left the water. Just find yourself some fresh water as soon as you can, give your hair a good rinse and leave to dry naturally.

Yes, that fresh water might feel bracingly cold (I call it refreshing….) but it will work miracles on your hair, I promise. I do this every. single. time. I leave the sea, without fail. I’ve learned the hard way that being lazy just isn’t worth it.
 

#3: Treat yourself to a weekly deep treatment

almond oil

Say ‘sorry’ to your hair for all that harsh salt water by giving it a deep conditioning treatment once per week. This will nourish your locks, leave your hair looking super-shiny and prepare your hair for yet more rough treatment. Sorry, hair.

You don’t need to fork out for expensive salon treatments or use chemicals for this either. Try one of the following all-natural, planet-friendly options:

–> Coconut & Honey Moisturising Hair Mask
Take 1 tbsp coconut oil and mix with 1 tbsp honey. Apply to hair, leave for 20 minutes then rinse out.

–> Banana & Almond Oil Moisturising Hair Mask
Take 1 medium banana, mash well then mix with 1 teaspoon almond oil. Apply, leave for 20 minutes then rinse out.
 

#4: Go easy on the hair washing

dr bronners

You don’t need to wash your hair as often as you think you do. Yes, even if you have super-greasy hair like I do. All that shampooing just dries out your hair even leaves you even more vulnerable to breakages, split ends and every girl’s worst nightmare- hair that falls out.

So give your hair a break and don’t use shampoo every day. Just wash a few times per week with a gentle shampoo and if you have really dry hair, consider using conditioner as a shampoo instead.

If your hair really does need a little ‘lift’ but you’re not going in the sea that day, just give it a rinse with fresh water- you’ll be surprised at how much this will do for your hair.
 

#5: Go gentle with that comb!

comb

Yes, it can be tempting just to quickly drag a comb or brush through your hair to get rid of those knots and just get onto the next fun thing on your schedule. But rushing the process will do more harm than good– it’ll be harder to get rid of your knots, you’re not doing your hair any favours and you’ll just end up with split ends and nastiness.

I use a wide-toothed comb which works brilliantly on wet hair (provided I’m gentle) and also respects my hair’s natural tendency to wave (great accidental pun there, I know!). You might want to use one too.

Otherwise, look for a good-quality brush that is kind to your hair and leaves you looking and feeling great.
 

#6: A braid is your best friend

braid

Braids are awesome. Not only will they help keep your hair off your face when you’re having fun in the sea, they also do a brilliant job at minimising the damage that seawater can do to your tresses.

You can say goodbye to tangled tresses that are soaked with salt and hello to sexy controlled hair that stays looking good with much less effort. If you followed tip one and applied coconut oil or conditioner before getting in, a braid will also help to keep it in longer.

Follow these great haircare tips and you won’t have to worry so much about the salt damaging your hair. And you know what that means?? It means you can concentrate more on having fun in the water.

So even if you’re like me (more of a natural beauty gal), make the effort to look after your locks- you’ll be very pleased you did.

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I Survived My PMS. Here’s How You Can Too.

I’ve been noticing over the past few months how my whole experience of life seems to transform in the couple of weeks leading up to my period. Instead of feeling brave, motivated, pro-active and desperate for adventure, PMS turns me into a hedgehog.

Hedgehog?!!?!? Yes, that’s right.

My energy totally disappears and the only thing I want to do is curl up into a ball in the corner somewhere and hibernate for as long as I can possibly get away with. (Which isn’t too long btw when you’re a self-employed parent who is training for a half-marathon and learning Portuguese at the same time!!)

I’m still relatively sweet and a tiiiny bit feisty on the inside. But for those weeks, those spikes are out (not my fault at all!) and you’d better stay clear.

Don’t get me wrong- I won’t snap or hurt you but I’d prefer it if you just got on with your own stuff for a while. It’s not that I don’t love you, because I do, but that’s just how it is…

But don’t worry- give me a few days and I’ll be back to normal, racing around, smiling, cracking jokes and begging to go swimming in the ocean despite the terrible weather outside.

So what’s going on here? Why do we get PMS in the first place and what can we do about it to feel at least human whilst it’s happening?

The reality of PMS

I know I have it pretty easy really when it comes to my period and PMS.

There are some poor women who descend into terrible anxiety and depression right before they’re due on. They gain weight, they can’t help stuffing themselves with sugary foods, they throw plates at their partner, they scream at their kids, their skin breaks out, they have trouble sleeping and they feel like their world is going to end.

According to some statistics, around 85% of women experience premenstrual syndrome, and 5% of these experience severe symptoms which just goes to show how bad it is. It’s no joke- PMS is a killer.

via GIPHY

Why do we get PMS anyway?

I’m afraid there’s no easy answer for this one. Basically doctors don’t really know why we feel so rubbish when it’s time of the month, but they assume that it’s something to do with the changing hormone levels throughout our menstrual cycle and low levels of serotonin too.

Of course, if you’re already suffering with depression, anxiety or another mood disorder, you’re much more likely to suffer with PMS than someone who doesn’t.

When I was reading through the research, I found it really interesting to see that PMS has also been linked to several lifestyle factors including:

But let’s make one thing very clear here-whether or not we suffer from PMS isn’t our fault. We haven’t done anything wrong to be feeling like this every month, and despite what popular male wisdom might tell us, we’re not ‘psycho bitches’ once a month.

We’re just girls who just need love, nurturing and a good dose of understanding so we can survive our own dark days. Don’t you agree?

What I do to survive my (admittedly mild ) PMS and you can too

Of course, I’m not just going to list a load of reasons why PMS is rubbish- I’m actually going to send you off armed with a handful of really useful tips that could help YOU cope with your symptoms of PMS too and survive the month relatively unscathed. 😉

So here’s why I do every month to survive my PMS:

I learn when my period is likely to arrive

If you don’t know when your period is coming, how do you know whether it’s PMS you’re suffering with, or just a black mood/hunger/weight gain or whatever?

Exactly.

So make sure you keep track of your menstrual cycle. You can download a ton of apps to track your menstrual cycle (like one of these) but I prefer to keep it nice and simple and use a Google Calendar to make when my period happens, and then count forward three weeks to when the PMS monster will strike.

calendar

I do even more yoga

I LOVE yoga so I make sure I fit in at least a short yoga practice every single day. But when my energy levels start running low, I’ll tend to switch a run or a sweaty cardio workout with a longer yoga session, like the fab one below.

Yoga is so brilliant for when you’re due on because it’s calm, inwardly focused, tackles your stress effectively and really irons out your kinks!

I read more

Usually I’ll fill my ‘spare’ time with all the stuff I don’t normally get time to do, like learning Portuguese, studying meteorology (yes, really!) and have a good old clear out.

But when my period approaches, I just don’t have as much energy as before, so I prefer to gather a big pile of cushions, throw them onto the floor and leap on top with a great book loaded on my Kindle. It works miracles!

book

I get more sleep

No energy = urgent battery recharge needed. So I try to cut short my working hours, turn off the computer well before 11pm and take myself off to bed. This usually helps me feel calmer, recharged and in a better mood the next day. Usually…;)

According to sleep science, the hours between 10pm and 2am are the most important for a healthy endocrine system as this is when many of our hormones are produced and used in the body and it’s much harder to get a restful night’s sleep after this time.

If only my 25 year old self knew that!…

bed

I listen to my body

In the week before my period, I also make sure I listen to what my body needs and wants, and do my best to deliver ( but within reason, there’ll be no family-boxes of Mulata cookies getting eaten anytime soon in this house!!!)

If it wants to rest, I let it rest.
If it wants to turn down the pace on my run then that’s completely fine.
If it wants to eat an entire carton of cherry tomatoes, or binge on watermelon or eat handfuls of almonds at one sitting then brilliant- be my guest.
If it wants to get outside and walk 10km just to get some fresh air, then awesome.

Because I know that my body is sending these messages as a cry for help and, for the sake of my health and happiness, I need to listen.

walk

The message here is pretty simple, I think. We need to stop fighting against our PMS and embrace it fully.

We need to listen to our bodies, we need to show ourselves some love and we need to slow right down. Because when we do, our stress levels, our anxiety, our low mood, our irritability, our bloating, our cravings and all the rest of our symptoms will ease and we will feel much better the whole month through.

So how about you? How does PMS affect your life? Do you have any brilliant tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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7 Ways to Overcome Your Fears & Get Braver

Last week, a great friend of mine came to visit and I took her to explore one of the most beautiful snorkeling places on the island that I was pretty sure she’d love.

It’s this medium-sized natural saltwater tidal pool that’s pretty safe and where locals kids and adults love to spend their summer and early autumn days and tourists can’t resist.

This particular day was perfect- the sun was shining, the sea was glistening in the sunlight and I could see the rainhas (ornate wrasse) dancing beneath the surface of the water.

I’m passionate about the ocean and I couldn’t wait to show her the underwater rocks and features, the hundreds stunning fish like the huge sargos (white seabream) who swim just past your face and let her get a taste of at least a a bit of the Atlantic ocean. 

We walked down the pools laughing and chatting, she audibly gasped when she saw the pool itself and she was soon stripping down to her swimsuit and making her way towards the water with a massive grin on her face.

Until she tried to put the snorkel mask on her face and get into the water….

snorkel

Suddenly, my beautiful, confident and inspiring friend dissolved into a bundle of nerves, anxiety and panic right before my eyes and no matter what we tried, she simply couldn’t get over her fear and get into that water.

Remember, this is a girl who really really REALLY wanted to get into that water (and she is a good swimming with snorkeling experience in the Great Barrier Reef of all places!) but her fears just wouldn’t let her enjoy what we were doing that day.

We’ve all had experiences like this in our own lives.

We’ve all felt really excited about doing things, such as talking to that cute stranger, taking off and travelling the world, launching a new career or even learning a brand new skill like a foreign language, but fear stands in our way, and we just let the opportunity slip through our fingers.

The trouble is, for as long as you allow these fears to hold us back, you’ll only ever be living a fraction of your full potential as a human being. You’ll never know just what you are REALLY capable of. And in the wise words of Mark Twain, you could end up “more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did“.

As you know, I’m all about living life to the full, so here are some tips that can help you overcome your fears, become braver and start living your dream, however big or small they might be.

yoga on cliff

1. Stop thinking that being brave equals being fearless

It isn’t. Being brave isn’t about becoming completely fearless and doing scary stuff without breaking into a sweat. It’s not about turning into some kind of modern superhero.

Because fear is a normal part of being human- it’s there to protect us from all kinds of nasty things and helps ensure our survival. It isn’t our enemy and it isn’t there to make a fool of you. Instead we should learn to manage it so that the fear starts working for you instead of against you. It shouldn’t paralyse you from taking action that could help you achieve your dreams and goals.

Next time you feel afraid, try to make friends with the fear and understand where it comes from.

Is it a biological fear response trying to keep you safe? Is your fear based on previous experiences? Is your fear simply a lack of confidence in your own abilities? Where can you feel the fear in your body?

cliff

2. Notice your bravery and stop self criticism

Stop telling yourself that you’re weak, flawed and hopeless just because you feel scared or even anxious when you try to do something challenging.

You’re not weak.

You’ve already faced numerous challenges and traumas in your life and despite the struggles and the suffering you might have faced, you’ve still got through to the other side in one piece. That makes you very brave indeed.

So when that negative voice tells you that you’re useless and you’ll never do it, tell it to shut up! Remind yourself those times when you were incredibly brave and kept moving forwards despite everything you were going through.

Then tell yourself, “I can do it!”

3. Think about your breathing

When we feel anxious or worried about something our breathing often changes in response to what we perceive as a threat to our personal survival, and kicks off a whole chain of stress responses in our bodies.

Whilst these responses would have helped us deal with the stress of running from a lion on the savannah, they’re pretty useless when it comes to psychological stress and only make it harder for us to think straight or get stuff done.

The good news is that we can control this stress response by doing what my grandmother used to tell me; “Take a deep breath and count to 10.”

Simply breathe in deeply and notice how your chest, your belly and your shoulders fill with air. Now breathe out completely and watch as your lungs empty. Imagine the fear and stress leaving your body with the air. My grandmother would recommend doing this ten times, but you can repeat this as many times as you need to.

This works perfectly for all kinds of stress, anxiety and fear, such as visiting the dentist, having a baby, taking an exam and so on. Definitely worth adding to your life skills toolkit!

footsteps

4. Take tiny steps towards your goal

Imagine you’re sat in a vegan restaurant and the waitress brings over a massive slice of the most delicious-looking vegan chocolate fudge cake you’ve ever imagined. I’m talking HUGE, dripping with vegan cream and glistening in the light. Are you with me here?

You don’t just pick up the plate, tip back your head, open wide and pour the entire chunk of cake into your mouth (unless you’re so crazy time-travelling cavewoman!). You’d choke, or get indigestion, or vomit and you just wouldn’t enjoy the cake.

Instead you need go slowly. You need to take that tiny fork and carefully remove a bite-sized piece, place it (politely) into your mouth, savour the flavour, chew, swallow, then repeat.

It’s much the same when it comes to getting brave enough to achieve your goals. You can’t expect to climb the mountain or go scuba diving overnight- it’s going to take some time to get there. It takes time to eat that vegan chocolate fudge cake and it will take time to become braver.

I have a great example for you- remember Laura Dekker who sailed solo around the world aged 16? She didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that she was going sailing on a whim. It took years of practice, of preparation and of taking small steps towards reaching her dream. But she did it. And so can you.

5. Fake it before you make it

Did you know that simply by acting ‘as if’ you already have the confidence, the bravery and, (in certain contexts) the skill can actually fool your brain into believing that you are already there?

Of course I’m not suggesting for a second that you should start being silly and leap into crazy situations without being fully prepared, but I am suggesting that you hold your head high, believe in your own power and give it a try.

friends

6. Surround yourself with brave people

When you’re challenging yourself and moving beyond your comfort zone on a quest to become more courageous, it’s really important to be surrounded by brave people who you can lean on when you need it the most and also inspire you to keep chasing your dreams.

You might be thinking: “But there’s noone around me that is brave enough!” and that’s OK because it’s never too late to connect with like-minded people.

Even if you live in the ‘sticks’ and you only have fields and cows for company, provided you can connect to the internet every once in a while, you can connect with plenty of people from all over the world who are following the same journey as you.

First, look out for clubs and activities near you then also explore the many Facebook groups out there, google your passion, watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts and follow blogs that really inspire you. You will find your tribe and grow braver still.

balance

7. Practice often

There aren’t any shortcuts or quick-fixes when it comes to being braver – you don’t simply wake up one morning and feel ready to jump out of a plane, go bungee jumping or travel around the world with your kids. It takes time. And most importantly, it takes practice.

Start exploring how it feels to go slightly out of your comfort zone every day- speak to that person you’re afraid of approaching, admit to yourself that you do harbour bigger dreams, investigate sailing courses, sign up for that teaching course or whatever else it is that makes your heart sing.

Little by little, bit by bit, you’ll learn to manage your fear, grow stronger and more confident as a person and start living instead of just surviving.

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