Who said vegans can't eat chocolate? The Slabb review

When I mention to people that I'm vegan and that I cannot eat milk chocolate, I'm often confronted with shocked and confused faces. "How can you live without Cadburys", they say and, "how can you even like dark chocolate." The truth is, before going vegan I never really liked dark chocolate. I would always avoid the Bournville in the box and I would sniff my nose up at dark chocolate even though people told me all about the health benefits. However, since becoming vegan I've discovered there's a lot more to dark chocolate than people realise and a lot of variety.

With the booming vegan market, there are more companies than ever before offering vegan chocolate from small independent stores on Etsy to the big established chocolate brands such as Hotel Chocolat.  Vegan chocolate has also become a lot more experimental - gone are the days where vegans were just given the darkest, most bitter chocolates in the tin, there are now vegan 'milk chocolates' made from coconut milk, creamy vegan truffles and vegan honeycomb minus the honey.

A new brand that I have been excited to try is The Slabb. The Slabb is an online chocolate company owned by Holly & Stuart and as well as selling dairy chocolates, they have an extensive vegan range with a variety of unique flavours. In January,  Holly and Stuart launched a Kickstarter campaign called the #100Slabbchallenge,  to create 100 different flavours of chocolate this year, with each chocolate being limited edition and the 'Vegan Party One' is one of the chocolates I was given to try.

The 'Vegan Party One' is a rich dark chocolate topped with party favourites such as party rings, sprinkles, jam and vegan marshmallows. It is a fun party bar perfect for a girly night in or for those looking to add a little bit of fun in their lives. The ingredients complement each other perfectly with the party rings adding crunch and texture and the jam adding extra sweetness to the chocolate - it was great to see a vegan chocolate that had a lot of character and it isn't just the standard 'dark chocolate'. The party edition would make an ideal present for a loved one as it is so colourful, unique and charming and the packaging is girly, yet sophisticated. These bars retail at £5.50 which I think is a bargain for such a unique, limited edition product and I can't wait to hear about the next vegan chocolate they create.

Have you tried any of The Slabb products before?

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We're homeowners! My thoughts on the house buying process

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After a long, emotionally draining twelve months of saving, two weeks ago my husband and I officially became homeowners. It has been a strange process for us as we haven't been down the traditional route of buying our first home, our landlord several months ago came up to us and said he was selling the house we were renting and we just didn't want to leave. We have a lovely spacious garden - enough room for a house extension, the neighbourhood is lovely and quiet and five minutes one way we're in the countryside and another five-minute drive in the opposite direction and we're in the main town, it's a very convenient location.  Knowing how much we wanted to buy the house we have been living in and waking up it seeing it every morning put a lot of pressure on us - when we started saving we had no savings in the bank and we only had a few short months to get enough money for a deposit. But we did it, with the help of a Help to Buy ISA we were able to put down a 9% deposit (which we worked day in and day out to save for, with no help from our relatives) and twelve months later the deeds have been handed over and the house is officially in our name.

When we started the house buying process, I was surprised by the lack of information out there for first-time buyers. It can be a little bit of a maze and if you get stuck with solicitors like ours who didn't inform you of the steps they were taking, it was very frustrating. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing a few honest posts about the house buying process, but today I thought I would jot down a few of my thoughts about what I learnt from buying our first home.

It can be very long winded

Firstly, the process can be incredibly long-winded, even if you're not in a chain. Once we had our mortgage approved, we assumed that the house would be ours overnight, but it took almost thirteen agonising weeks of waiting and it was an emotionally draining process, wondering each day if something was going to go wrong and we wouldn't get our home.

Emotions are high

I didn't expect to be so emotional during the process. What should have been one of the happiest times of our lives, was full of tension, anxiety and tears.  In retrospect, I should have had more faith in our solicitors and ourselves that it would all be okay in the end. 

You need to do research

Always do your research and make note of every step you need to take in order keep the ball rolling. There had been several times where our solicitors forgot to inform us of a pivotal stage in our mortgage application and because we had done our research, we were able to give them a steer in the right direction. On the other hand, don't get hung up on some of the horror stories that are out there, there's a lot of horror stories on forums and just because it happened to someone else, it doesn't mean it will happen to you.

Somethings don't always go to plan

Like everything in life, sometimes things don't go to plan and you need to make yourself aware of every eventuality.  We had issues surrounding our completion date, through no fault of our own, but it all worked out in the end. The worst thing you can do is lose your stride - remain positive.

You learn who your best friends are

Buying your first home is an expensive process from saving up for the initial deposit to surveyor fees, bank fees and solicitor fees. When buying your first home it is very likely that you would need to sacrifice nights out and social events to save some cash. Luckily for me, I have the most supportive friends who were by our side all the way, but there was a few who were less supportive and didn't understand why I needed to save the money so quickly.

It's worth it in the end

Despite all ups and downs, you go through when buying a house, it is all worth it in the end. The moment where you get your keys or you enter the building that is finally yours is an overwhelming experience and something to be really proud of. I know how fortunate I am to have my own home and I'm looking forward to making it a space that reflects mine and my husband's personality.

Have you bought a home before?

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Vegan Junk Food at Knaves Kitchen, Leeds

I'm not usually one for eating junk food, but when I was invited to review Knaves Kitchen in Leeds and saw their vegan junk food menu, I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. As a vegan, I'm always looking for exciting, unique dishes that challenge the perceptions of what vegans actually eat - we don't always eat salads and large plates of vegetables. Knaves Kitchen, situated in Oporto on Call Lane features a creative vegan menu, consisting of a vegan favourite 'seitan', which is a gluten meat substitute that can be made into a variety of complex dishes.

Dishes on the Knaves Kitchen menu includes lots of comfort dishes from 'fish finger wraps' to Katsu curries and onion bhaji burgers, all of which are reasonably priced and great portion sizes.  Their cocktail menu is also just as creative - one of my favourites of the night being a pineapple concoction served with a side of frazzles to give it a sweet and savoury vibe. 

The food at Knaves Kitchen was exceptional and the dishes that they were able to create with seitan were outstanding, you wouldn't even think half of them were vegan. Their kebab dishes were extra 'meaty', their tofu katsu curry had the perfect amount of crunch and their fish finger sandwich was heavenly especially the secret recipe for tartar sauce. The star of the show for me, however, was the onion bhaji burger, it oozed flavour, had the perfect amount of crunch and it was highly satisfying - so much so, that I dived straight in and forgot to take a picture!

If you're looking to experiment with veganism, but don't like the idea of going straight to the deep end with whole-food vegan recipes, I completely recommend visiting Knaves Kitchen - I would also suggest that those who eat meat give it a try, because Knaves Kitchen proves that life without meat doesn't have to be boring.

Have you been to Knaves Kitchen before?
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Why you should never deny yourself a break

Many of us are often guilty of rushing around at 100mph and not thinking about the consequences it could have on our health and wellbeing. It can be hard to face up to the facts that we need to take a break from the things we love, especially when it can be detrimental in some cases to our careers and the things we enjoy in life.

Over the last few months, my body has been telling me to take a back seat and I wouldn't listen. I thought I could continue living life in the fast lane, but my health began telling me otherwise.  When I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid just over a month ago, I knew something finally had to give. My body was tired and rundown and I needed to re-energise myself before I ran my body too far into the ground. For the first time in years, my mental health also took a huge hit - I was grumpy, emotional and I lost my enthusiasm for life, my body just wanted to sleep and for such a long time, I was depriving it.

Last month I took my first ever month out of the blogging world - I stopped posting on social media, I switched off all my accounts and spent the time I would have been blogging with my husband doing the things we love together. I also developed a passion for cooking and realised how therapeutic it can be and for the first time in years, I didn't spend everyday panicking about my social media stats or whether my blog had any views.

For those of you considering taking a break, here are just a few ways that taking time out can help you in the long run.

You will have a different outlook on life

When you're tired and run down, the whole world seems a gloomy place. It's hard to stay positive and the smallest of things can leave us feeling on edge.  Having a break will give you a chance to reboot your system and when you're feeling more energised, you can look at the tasks ahead with a lot more optimism.

You can spend the time trying new hobbies

Taking a break from one thing doesn't mean switching off completely. In fact, there are many hobbies out there that are known for boosting mental health such as painting and colouring or taking up gentle exercise. When I took time out of the things causing me the most stress, I turned to cooking and developed a passion for it.  It became my new way to unwind and I enjoyed seeing my creations.

You can spend much needed time with loved ones

Life is just too short and we all have friends or family that we would love to spend more time with, but never get the chance. Taking a break from things that are becoming too life-consuming will free up time for you to spend with the people that mean the most to you. For me, it meant being able to relax in front of the television with my husband after work instead of going straight on my laptop or spending a weekend going for days out without having to worry about taking my camera or posting on social media.

It could improve your health

The more mental stress we put our bodies through, the more likely we are to become poorly or out of shape.  Having that extra time from taking a break would allow you to spend more time cooking healthier meals, more time to exercise and do things that put you in a good mood.

It will make you more productive in the long run

Once your rest period is over and your body is feeling back on top form, you can go back to the things you enjoy doing with a new lease of life - things won't feel as stressful and it may ignite more creative ideas that you wouldn't originally have had.

Going on a blog break helped me gain a lot of perspectives and stupidly made me realise what I should have known before, that life doesn't revolve around what you put online. In fact, it has made me look at my blog in a very different light and helped me realise what I want from it in the future - my blog turned into a job when originally it was created to give me an outlet to express my emotions and do what I love doing, writing and that will be my main focus going forward.

Have you taken a break from something recently?

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How we saved almost £10k in 12 months

Saving money can be extremely difficult, but it's not impossible. It is surprising how much money you can actually save by cutting back on a few (not always all) luxuries and switching your products for slightly cheaper versions.  Getting into the initial mindset of saving money can be hard at first, but if you have something you really need or want to save for, you can do it.

In the short space of twelve months, between my husband and I we have saved almost £10K. It wasn't easy - it took a lot of willpower and at times it was challenging, but we had a goal that by the beginning of 2018 we wanted a house deposit and we've done it. Although it has helped that we both have decent wages and we were able to put a big chunk of that money away each month, there has been plenty of other things that we have done to top up our wages and reach our money saving target. From mystery shopping to filling out academic studies, to selling on eBay and the odd flutter with match betting, there's a lot of money to be made online for those able to put the time in.

Below are a few hints and tips to inspire those looking to save up, whether you're planning on saving your dream holiday or a house deposit, a new handbag or a rainy day fund.

Analyse your incomings and outgoings

The first thing you must do when you're planning on saving money is to analyse your incomings and outgoings. Pay attention to your monthly bills and tot up how much of your wage you have left when everything has been paid for. Once you have your overall total, you can then give yourself a weekly budget of how much money you would ideally like to live on and put the rest into savings.

Make a plan

One of the best ways to stick to saving money is to write down a plan or have an overall end goal. Figure out what you want the money for, when you want it by and how you are going to do it. Set yourself monthly challenges and once you have reached half-way, reward yourself - it will keep you motivated.

Register for cashback websites 

Make money back from any shopping you do by registering on cashback sites such as Top Cash Back or Quidco - you can earn a percentage of your shopping back by using an affiliate link on their website and you would be surprised how quickly it all adds up.  Many banks now have cashback schemes and it is worth discussing these with a bank advisor to see if it is worth you registering. You may have to pay a small fee (we pay £5 a month), but we get almost £10 a month back based on all the bills that we pay.

Grab freebies with your weekly shop

Two of my favourite apps on my phone are Shopmium and Check Out Smart. These apps give you discounts and often freebies with your weekly supermarket shop. If you're thinking, what is the catch? There isn't any. These apps are set up so that you can try new products, in the hope that the brands will get new customers. Shopmium also has a market research section, where you can leave reviews of the product once you have tried them and these will be passed back to the company. Over the last year and a half  I've had nearly £100 worth of freebies. If you would like your first freebie on Shopmium, register for an account and use KHUAAUYP to get a free jar of Nutella.

Sell your unwanted items

One of the quickest and easiest ways of making money is to sell your unwanted items on Facebook selling groups, apps such as Depop, Shpock or Vinted or on eBay. We all have items in our homes that we do not use on a regular basis, so it's always worth taking a hard look at these items and if you know they are never going to get used again, you can make some money from them.

Buy and sell for profit*

Buying and selling items for profit can be frowned upon, but if you have an eye for a deal and you know that you can make extra money from selling it on, why not? You can buy stock from car boot sales, charity shops or even grab items in sales on the high street. We found a vinyl player in a reduced section for £7.99 - brand new in the box, they were just selling this for old stock and we managed to sell it for £40. I also bought a beautiful pair of shoes for 99p in a charity shop and I didn't intend on selling them as I really liked them, but they didn't fit quite right - I gave them a £5 starting bid on eBay hoping that I would get £2-3 profit, but they went for £50! Of course, not all buying and selling for profit goes well, so you need to have a backup plan on what you're going to do with any old stock.

Help academics with their studies*

Another website that I really enjoy is Prolific. Profilic studies is a website where you can help university students with their research. The studies are incredibly varied and well paid and you it's worthwhile doing them as you know that you will be making a difference, helping students across the world with their studies. Over the last year, I've made £180 and could have easily made more if I dedicated more time to the website.

Sign up for surveys*

Surveys can be incredibly laborious, but if you have the spare time it is always worth registering to a few survey sites and doing these whilst watching television on an evening.  Although many pay only 5 to 10p per time, it will eventually add up. Swagbucks, OnePoll,  YouGov and Opinion Outpost are just a few of them, but it is worth looking around the internet to see which ones suit you and the time you have available the best.

Become a mystery shopper*

If you enjoy shopping and have a keen eye for detail,  you should consider mystery shopping. Mystery Shopping is as the name describes, where you go into a shop pretending to be a normal customer, but you will have a set of questions you will need to fill in about the service.  Mystery shopping is a great way of getting free meals, free food, free clothes and earning a bit of money on the side. There are many ways you can do this - you can register for apps such as Field Agent or go down the more formal route of websites such as Market Force.

Experiment with matched betting

Matched Betting isn't for everyone, especially those with an addictive nature and it can require some consideration, but if you are sensible with money and don't mind gambling, it can be a good way of earning a little bit of extra money. If you haven't heard of Matched Betting before, Matched Betting is where you take advantage of free bets that companies offer and place a bet backing both sides, making it a win-win situation. There's quite a lot of maths to do and it takes a lot of concentration, but if you follow many guides available online, there is money to make. We made just over £500 tax free last year before we had to stop - if you're applying for a mortgage, don't do any Matched Betting within six months of your application as it will show up on your statements and lenders do not like gambling as it shows risky behaviour.

Make money from your hobbies*

Finally, if you have a hobby that enables you to create physical or digital products or something creative that you can share with the world, why not consider making money from it? This can range from selling graphics online to selling artwork, making bathbombs or candles to even setting up your own blog if you are passionate about writing. These probably won't make you money straight away, but it's a great long term time investment and could pay off in the future.

If you are making money, even a small amount you may need to consider declaring this to HMRC - the items with asterisks next to them means that money will need to be declared as they are taxable incomes.

What are you saving money for?

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