Saturday, 19 August 2017

Granola Topped Porridge Bread - Vegan Version

My granola topped porridge bread recipe can easily be tailored to suit the vegan lifestyle. Here's how.

Granola Topped Porridge Bread

1 tub dairy alternative yogurt*
1/2 banana
1 TBSP dairy alternative milk*
1/2 TSP salt
1 TSP agave syrup or maple syrup
Dash vanilla essence
2 tubs porridge oats**
2 TSP bread soda**
Breakfast by Bella granola (I used Peanut Butter Me Up)

*Use your favourite, be it almond, coconut, soya etc.
**make sure to check that these items are gluten free/processed in an area free from gluten if needs be

Empty the yogurt into a large mixing bowl. Whizz the banana in a food processor or with a hand blender until smooth, then add it to the yogurt and stir. Add the milk, salt, agave syrup/maple syrup, and vanilla essence. Mix well.
Fill the empty yogurt pot with porridge oats twice. Stir until it's combined with the wet ingredients. Then add the bread soda and mix well.

In a cup, mix together an extra blob of agave syrup/maple syrup with a dash of water. Lightly brush this over the top of the bread before sprinkling on granola, but avoid creating a thick layer.

Empty the mixture into a 1lb loaf tin. Bake in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven, remove it from its tin, and then bake on a tray for a further 10 minutes.

This recipe should help to to create your own perfect loaf, but I must stress that it's all about what suits you. Play about with the recipe and see if you can improve it. It's worth mentioning that this type of experimenting is how I came up with the vegan version of porridge bread in the first place, which I've made many times as a way to mix things up in the kitchen. Although, because I've only just thought of topping it with granola the pictures above are of the non-vegan version so apologies must be made for this.

My own twist on porridge bread is to turn off the oven after 45 minutes and leave the bread to sit in the warmth until the end of the hour because I prefer a tackier consistency. This is why the bread above is slightly uneven in its colour. I'm sure I'd score me nil points on GBBO, but home baking isn't about slavishly adhering to a recipe. It's about creativity and tailoring things to your own taste.

Granola Topped Porridge Bread

Porridge bread is a real superstar. It's gluten free, more filling than regular bread, and so easy to make. Because it is naturally plain, I like to experiment by adding different flavours. Some successful past creations have included: apple and cinnamon; almond; and a chia seed and millet superbread.

I was recently sent some Breakfast by Bella granola to try out and review. One morning, when I was munching on porridge bread topped with granola (see below), I had some baking inspiration and created this recipe.

Plain porridge bread topped with dark tahini,
homemade gooseberry jam, and BBB's
Nutty Nosh granola 

Because so many of the Breakfast by Bella fans are vegans, I'm also going to post a vegan version of this bread so that everyone can enjoy it.

Granola Topped Porridge Bread

1 tub fat free yogurt
 1 egg
1 TBSP milk
1/2 TSP salt
1 TBSP honey
Dash vanilla essence 
2 tubs porridge oats*
2 TSP bread soda*
Breakfast by Bella granola (I used Peanut Butter Me Up)

*make sure to check that these items are gluten free/processed in an area free from gluten if needs be

Empty the yogurt into a large mixing bowl. Beat the egg in a separate cup and add to the bowl, keeping a little back for late. Also add the milk, salt, honey, and vanilla essence. Mix well. 
Fill the empty yogurt pot with porridge oats twice. Stir until it's combined with the wet ingredients. Then add the bread soda and mix well.

Lightly brush egg over the top of the bread before sprinkling on granola. Use enough so that the top is covered, but avoid creating a thick layer.

Empty the mixture into a 1lb loaf tin. Bake in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven, remove it from its tin, and then bake on a tray for a further 10 minutes.

This recipe should help to to create your own perfect loaf, but I must stress that it's all about what suits you. Play about with the recipe and see if you can improve it.
My own twist is to turn off the oven after 45 minutes and leave the bread to sit in the warmth until the end of the hour because I prefer a tackier consistency. This is why the bread above is slightly uneven in its colour. I'm sure I'd score me nil points on GBBO, but home baking isn't about slavishly adhering to a recipe. It's about creativity and tailoring things to your own taste. 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

My Experience with Facial Sun Creams

When other people see the temperatures rising they immediately think of lounging out in their garden, barbecues and fruity ciders. I, on the other, begin to crank the wheels of worry because of my skin's inability to deal with sunlight. It's the price of being a redhead.
It's not just burning that I'm wary of, it's freckling. Yeah, sure, they're super cute, but they're my body's way of telling me that I'm getting too much sun. Plus, while freckles fade in the winter months they're really hard to fully get rid of. Fast forward twenty years and they blight your skin.
In my quest for protection I've tried countless sun creams with varying degrees of success. One area I've had particular difficulty with is my face. It's the most important area to protect, but it's also the trickiest for a lot of us because of the delicate nature of facial skin. Additionally, if your skin is prone to sensitivity - like mine - heavy or oily sun creams can make you break out.
With this in mind, I thought I'd share with you all some of the sun creams I've tried.

Available here
Soap & Glory - Make Yourself Youthful Sunshield Superfluid SPF 50 (30ml)
Application: You're meant to apply this on top of your moisturiser on a morning and then put on your make up. Sounds great, but it requires re-application every 1-2 hours. Who has time for that? And who wants to build layer after layer of sun protection on their face?
Appearance: Gives the skin a beautiful glow.
Packaging: It's neat plastic bottle and lightweight design make it ideal for popping into your handbag, not surprising seeing as you'll have to have the thing glued to your person.
Price: €20.99 from Boots
Verdict: It's a great way to liven up dull skin, but as a sun protector it's too much fuss to be practical. 1/5

Available here
Clinique - City Block Sheer SPF 25 (40ml)
Application: It goes on before your make up. One application will do for the whole day. It's notable that this is only SPF 25. It's marketed as an everyday product, not as sun protection for your holiday. In Ireland and the UK, unless it's a real scorcher, it should be enough. An SPF 40 version is available too; it's called the "Super City Block".
Appearance: It's slightly tinted. I found that it makes foundation appear heavier, so it's a good idea to reduce the amount of foundation you use when using this. The product is on the oily side so this wouldn't be suited to anyone with greasy skin.
Packaging: The tube sits upright when not in use so the wonders of gravity will help to ensure that you get the most out of your product.
Price: €24
Verdict: It made my skin break out, so it's difficult for me to give a fair appraisal. My skin is fairly sensitive so this wouldn't be a guaranteed effect for other people. To use the tube up, I only applied it to my cheeks and neck (they're my skin's safe haven) and it was absolutely fine there. My own view of this product is therefore a 2/5 - but yours may vary.

Ultrasun Anti-Age Face SPF 50+
Application: Once a day, but I'm yet to find information on whether it can go over or under moisturiser and make up. I use it by putting on moisturiser after cleaning my face, waiting for at least five minutes, applying Ultrasun, and then putting on make up.
Appearance: It dulls the skin immediately. To counteract this, as well as putting on foundation I've started to use a highlighter. Yet another thing to put on...
Packaging: Its easy pump bottle is small and can be put into a handbag. But it's once a day, so you don't need to bring it anywhere.
Price: £24 from their website. For Irish readers, M&S sells it in store (not listed on their website) for around €35.
Verdict: Because I combine Ultrasun with a highlighter its dulling effects aren't noticeable. However, my skin is left permanently covered in products. I don't mean that it's sticky or greasy, but I'm aware I'm wearing several things and I don't like that feeling.
Apart from this it's a very good sun protector and, most importantly, doesn't make my skin break out. I wore it every day for a week whilst on holiday and my skin was actually better on the flight home than it had been on arrival. I give it 4/5.

Ultrasun Anti-Age Face SPF 30+
Application: Same as above.
Appearance: Unlike its 50+ cousin, this product has a lovely gloss to it that makes the skin glow.
Packaging: Same as above.
Price: £20 on their website, M&S in Ireland for around €30.
Verdict: Because this Ultrasun product is a lower SPF than the one above, it doesn't have such a heavy effect on the skin. The trade-off, obviously, is that it offers less protection. Some say that SPF 30 is plenty and that SPF 50 doesn't offer much more in practical terms, but this has to be weighed against the fact that most of us don't put on a thick enough layer of sun protection so we won't be getting its full benefits anyway.
As someone who is susceptible to the sun, I wouldn't choose this product for my holiday wear. People who don't feel like sunny weather is a personal attack may be satisfied with it. However, it's great for use when I'm in Ireland because we don't get an extreme amount of sun. Overall I give it a 5/5, with the * that it's not suitable for gingers abroad.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The New Snapchat Update

Snapchat is my favourite social media platform because it has something that none of the others do: privacy. Its ephemeral nature means that all the photo and chat messages I send can be done in safety. Of course, screenshot exists - but at least I get a notification that one of my friends has thought my message worthy of saving. Snapchat's new update, however, has threatened geographical privacy in a way that's never been seen before.
Snap Maps allows users to share their location with their friends. This means that your friends can see where you are on a map of the area. It also brings a hotspot feature, whereby you can see what's going on in areas with high activity. It works a lot like adding images and videos to 'Featured Stories'; you have to chose to submit your content to the public map by sending it to 'Our Story'.

In relation to the visibility of Snap Maps, there's no way to sugarcoat this, it's downright creepy that I can see where my friends are without communicating with them. I can't imagine a situation where I would need this function. Anyone who I want to know my location knows it.

Conversely, there are many ways that this feature can be misused. For example, an abusive partner could use it to keep tabs on their victim. If someone suspects their partner of cheating, they may use it to track their movements. Is a society in which it's okay to watch someone's avatar move around a map, on the notion that 'something's going on', really one that we want to bring upon ourselves?

In addition to these darker activities, there's also the social impact of the location feature to consider. If someone sees that their friends are together on the map, without having invited them out, they're going to feel excluded. It could also exacerbate feelings of loneliness for a person to see a lot of their contacts in town, and therefore having fun, whilst the user watches on from their screen. Anxiety is a plague on the 21st century; is another trigger really necessary?
And how will this affect teenagers? Feelings of exclusion, isolation and anxiety are already heightened in young people. They're particularly vulnerable to the harmful social effects of this update.

Snap Maps does provide the user with adjustable privacy settings that allows them to adjust allows their visibility. However, whilst it's possible to set your profile to 'Ghost Mode' (invisible) it's not really in the spirit of things. People use social media because they want to be open. Stalking your friends' maps without revealing your location isn't going to be fun, or eradicate the social harms mentioned previously.
You could set your location to public for the times that you want to be seen and turn it off later, but the danger is you'd forget. Alternatively, someone could turn on the feature without you knowing as a way to track your movements.

It's not all bad though. The hotspot feature is a great way to see what's going on at events - great for if you're trying to decide where to go in an unfamiliar area. Plus, because the entire public can add to it, there's not the same sense of isolation attached to viewing a large group of people having fun (without you) as there is at seeing your friends do the same. And, if I'm being entirely honest, I can think of one situation that the location feature will be handy for: finding out where the person you fancy is going on a night out and ending up at the same bar as them. If they like you back, it's cute and romantic. If not, you're a stalker.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Election Manifesto Pledges Rights EU Citizens Already Have

A story about a Conservative party election pledge caught my eye this morning: giving power to people to ask social media companies to remove content they posted in their younger days. BBC quoted Labour's response as, "cynically trotting out tough talk that we know will be ultimately meaningless". The article is here.

They're both wrong. Well, actually, one is following the EU and the other has apparently never heard the biggest reformation of European data privacy law to occur since 1995. The power to remove content posted as a child is just one aspect of the 'right to erasure', also known as the right to be forgotten. This right was first recognised by the much loved Court of Justice of the European Union. Yes, those bucks. It's now been written into legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR 2016).
It's amazing how much shame one
motherboard can hold
The GDPR 2016 is a piece of EU law that applies throughout the Union in the same way, so we all get equal protection. It was officially published in 2016, but it's not due to come into force until 2018. Thanks to this law, everyone in the EU will have this right to be forgotten.

Returning to the Conservative pledge, let's take a moment to discuss why it's not as groundbreaking as they're trying to pass it off. First of all, the EU's right to be forgotten recognises that things you did online as a child that bring you shame now and states that being a former Bebo Stunnah is grounds for asking for your picture and any embarrassing comments you left to your other half to be removed. So, basically, the Conservative's pledge.

The right to be forgotten is much broader than this though, because it allows anyone who withdraws consent to data processing to have content removed. Data processing is as simple as hosting a picture or a comment on a website. So, at any time, you can withdraw consent to anything under the GDPR 2016 and ask social media companies, search engines, or any other website to remove material. The GDPR 2016 even covers situations where someone uploads a picture of you and you don't consent to a website hosting it.
Brexit strikes again
As amazing as the GDPR 2016 is, it's only applicable to the EU. So it requires the UK to enact their own law to match its protection. But this is something that's probably going to happen anyway for the purposes of trade agreements. To get a good deal with the EU, countries need to have similar regulatory systems so that neither party is disadvantaged by the other's lax approach to protection. It makes good sense because why would the EU allow someone who doesn't follow any of the rules that they think are important to compete with EU players subject to those rules?

Having now slated the Conservatives for their lack of originality, let's bring some balance to the discussion and examine Labour's nonsensical statement about the pledge. This pledge can't be "utterly meaningless" if 27 EU countries are going to enforce a much more robust version of it next year. It's astounding that they could be blind to a Regulation that's received so much discussion.

To summarise, the Conservatives are promising a watered down version of what the EU has already set in motion and Labour haven't been paying attention. To all my UK readers, hard luck; to all my EU readers, try not act too smug when you're in the UK taking advantage of the bastarised exchange rate.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Analysis of the EU's Draft Guidelines, as Agreed by 27 Member States

The EU has agreed upon the guidelines which will be used in the Brexit negotiation process. The document opens with a joke, stating that, "the European Council has received the notification by the United Kingdom of its intention to withdraw from the European Union and Euratom. This allows for the opening of negotiations as foreseen by the Treaty." Of course, we all know that shortly after the Brexit vote the drafter of Article 50 admitted that it was never intended to be used.
The document emphasises that it doesn't want to severe relations with the UK, but that any working relationship will be subject to a degree of compromise. Agreements won't be done on a case by case basis; instead an entire deal must be completed before anything can come into being. An example of this would be a refusal to allow an deal on the movement of goods to commence whilst the movement of workers awaited debate.
The stars have nothing to do with
the number of Member States, but
their order represents unity
Individual Member States won't be allowed to make deals with the UK, which is old news. It makes sense in the context of pure economic relationships between Member States and the UK, but one wonders how the special relationship with Ireland will be handled by the EU and whether it fully appreciates the gravity of the situation. Separate negotiations are banned, so it's reasonable to assume that Enda Kenny can't bob over to London for tea and a chat. Instead he'll have to go to Brussels, who have a significantly lesser understanding of the makings of a good brew. 
The UK's relationship with the EU can only be defined once it has left, i.e. not until the UK are firmly outside the club in March 2019. The EU has stated that interim agreements which are time limited and well-defined may be used to ease the process. This is good news. It means that if negotiations drag on (either because a party is dragging its feet or due to the sheer volume of issues to be discussed) the system won't be thrown into disarray because the timer goes off.
Turning to the substance of the agreement, the EU has underlined the importance of the free movement of citizens and workers to the ethos of the Union. It has stressed the need to come to amicable arrangements which will disrupt as little as possible the lives of UK and EU citizens whose living status is jeopardized by the decision to leave. The UK's position on this is not clear. On one hand, the free movement of people seemed to be a motivator for the leave vote, on the other hand the business community have spoken out about the invaluable source of labour EU workers provide.
On the budgetary side of things, the document expresses a desire to see both sides honour their financial agreements. For example, a UK farmer who was promised an EU subsidy which was due to run for 5 years would still receive their payment.
At least the UK stuck to its sterling-guns 
and there will be no need for a currency change
Ireland gets a special shout out, but not until page 6 (of 9). "Flexible and imaginative solutions" and "the aim of avoiding a hard border" are pledged. It's noteworthy that it's only an aim, rather than a firm commitment.
There's also a corking line about the UK's intention to leave the single market and wanting to agree an "ambitious free trade agreement", which is the equivalent of the EU telling the UK to get on their bike.
A host of common sense stuff is included too, basically spelling out that the UK won't have all the rights and obligations that EU membership confers when they leave, but until then they do. Was it really necessary to put pen to paper on these matters? It's evocative of a student padding out an essay.
To summarise, the ethos of the EU's guidelines is that it will be coming at the negotiations as a single, united party. It will look for a fair deal and seems uninterested in punishing the UK for leaving, however, it's clear that whatever is agreed will not be as advantageous as full-membership of the EU nor will it be the equivalent benefits and responsibilities under a new name. It's a very fair stance and should hopefully lead to an amicable agreement.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Review: Tru-Nut Powdered Peanut Butter

I have a major problem with almond butter, and also sometimes cashew butter. Once the jar is open I can't stop myself and before I know it I'm sat on the sofa with nothing but a spoon and my shame. I can restrain myself around peanut butter, but I still make the mistake of having a few scoops alongside my toast which means that it never hangs around for long. My addiction something I've made my peace with; we all have our vices. In the interests of my figure, I don't buy nut butter very often, so the opportunity to gloriously indulge is infrequent. This window into my life has a purpose, it's the grounding for why I bought powdered peanut butter in the first place.
The product is made by pressing peanuts to express their oils. This creates a powder which can be mixed with water "to create spreadable peanut butter" (aka paste). It can also be sprinkled onto foods or added to shakes. I mean, it doesn't sound appetising, does it? It sounds like a wartime ration. But it has a significantly lower fat content than regular peanut butter so concessions have to be made. Here's how it fared.
It's American style peanut butter, which in this instance
means that it contains added sugar, not that it's deep fat fried
As a spread: To make the spread you mix a few spoons of powder to a spoon of water. It comes together fairly easily, roughly 15-20 seconds. Add the liquid slowly so you don't drown the mixture. Top tip, try using milk instead of water for more flavoursome results. The spread is incredibly smooth and it tastes like regular peanut butter.
As a topping: It doesn't work as a topping, it just gums to the roof of your mouth. 
With a spoon: It was fantastic, in that it was impossible to get through more than half a teaspoon because it absorbs all the liquid in your mouth. I literally cannot overeat this stuff.
Price: I picked up this jar for €5.99 from TK Maxx, but I've seen other brands retail for over a tenner. It's certainly not worth that kind of money.

Verdict: It's the methadone of the nut butter world. By this I mean, it's fine but it doesn't hit the spot in the same way.