How to survive your first meal out as a vegan









When you first turn vegan, the thought of eating at a restaurant amongst friends can be daunting. Although most restaurants these days can be accommodating, it's hard to deny that there is still a slight stigma surrounding a plant-based diet and it's something that those transitioning to a vegan diet can find difficult. However, eating out as a vegan is far less harder than it used to be. Gone are the days where you would be served a bowl of lettuce and nothing else, vegan food is now exciting and expanding amongst the culinary scene. For what feels like the first time, restauranteurs are becoming educated on the nutritional benefits of eating plant-based and are now adapting to an ever-growing clientele. In fact, according to a recent article by The Guardian, there are now over half a million vegans in the UK. Although veganism is pretty new to me, I have been vegetarian for over thirteen years and have had my fair share of snide comments when bringing up the 'v' word in restaurants and I cannot count on my hands how many times I've had to put up with a cheese-based meal when I'm lactose-intolerant due to the fact that it was the only vegetarian option on the entire menu, only to feel poorly later on. Since going vegan,  I've actually found eating out even easier. More restaurants are taking veganism seriously a) because it is now such a growing trend, possibly even overtaking vegetarianism, b) vegans are known for being stereotypically feisty and if you serve them the wrong products, you will know about it.

Drawing on my experience over the last few months of being vegan, I've put together a guide on how to survive your first meal out as a vegan, to show you it is achievable and not as much as an inconvenience as you may have thought it would be.

Research

The key to having a successful vegan meal out is to research your area, read reviews and hunt out all the venues that may be vegan-friendly. Apps like Happy Cow are a great starting point for any new vegan as they list vegan venues, however with additional research, I've been able to
discover some local restaurants that are not listed, so don't feel that you have to rely heavily on these.

Ring ahead

If you're looking to book a meal at a restaurant and you're unsure if they will cater for your dietary requests, pick up the telephone. Most restaurants are accommodating, especially if they are a higher end eaterie who makes all their meals from scratch.

If in doubt, stick to the high street

The high street these days has a lot to offer vegans from Turtle Bay for Caribbean food to Wagamama for Asian, Pizza Express if you're craving vegan pizza to Wetherspoons if you're on a budget and looking for traditional English grub. Many of these places are great if you're in a hurry or if you are feeling spontaneous and don't want to commit to a booking.

Always double check

To some restaurants and restaurant staff, veganism is rather new so you may have to double check that they understand the term 'vegan' and what it entails. Double checking before you place your order will give you piece of mind for when it does arrive and give clarity to the ones serving you - especially with items such as honey which a lot of people presume are vegan, but they're not.

Don't be afraid to give recommendations

If you see an item on the menu that could potentially be turned vegan, don't be afraid to ask the restaurant if they can improvise. Sometimes they are grateful for the advice.

Improvise with sides

Although side dishes are usually an afterthought, many of these can really easily be turned vegan and can be a saviour if there isn't any vegan options on the menu.  Get creative with your sides by jazzing up a side salad and asking what fresh produce they have available.

Relax

Eating out as a vegan isn't as bad as it used to be, so relax and try to enjoy yourself. The more anxious you become, the less willing you will be to eat out in future and discover all the hidden gems that are available to you.

Have you ever had a vegan meal at a restaurant?
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Five Reasons to Staycation in the UK this Autumn


The weather is getting colder, the leaves getting crisper and the nights darker. It's the time of year that we all tend to go into our hibernation - tucking ourselves under our blankets as soon as we get home from work and spending all weekend in our pyjamas. It is tempting either to not leave the house when there's a chill in the air or book a trip to hotter climates, but for me, the autumn weather is the perfect time for a 'staycation.' In the UK we're blessed with the most beautiful woodland, which masked with auburn tinted leaves is the perfect setting for a romantic escape or maybe a city break is more your style, places like Edinburgh and York with their cobble paths lit by Victorian-style street lamps looks beautiful this time of year. Here are just five reasons why you should embrace an autumnal staycation this year.

Staying close to home

With the latest controversy surrounding flight cancellations, it is more tempting than ever to stay close to home. But staying close to home has other benefits too, it means you can take more trips on a weekend and still be home from work, if the weather turns nasty you can pack your bags and be in your bed within the space of a few hours and if you are blessed with your own transport, you can pack up and go whenever you feel like it.

Ease the symptoms of SAD

The change of the seasons can be quite troublesome for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and bring on symptoms of anxiety, depression and tiredness, to name but a few. Taking small and frequent breaks can be really good for your health and wellbeing and being close to home means that you can do this at your leisure with very little stress. You can simply book a night at a nearby village or city to give you the feeling of an escape or if you feel like travelling further, you can do that too.

Absorb the beautiful scenery

As mentioned previously,  in the UK we have lots of picturesque views. In fact, we have 31 World Heritage sites on our doorstep to explore. It might be chilly outside, but waking up looking over a misty lake or strolling through forest watching the wildlife prepare for their winter hibernation is definitely worth it.

To feast on home comforts

Move over a-la-carte, the autumn is all about home-style comforts. Wholesome pies, plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables and stews and there's no better place to find these than heading to a good old British pub.

Spend time with loved ones

In the summer, most people are going off on their summer holidays or have really busy social lives so the autumn is a great time to regroup your friends and family and spend a little bit more quality time, whether it is cosying up next to a fireplace in the middle of nowhere or going on a long hike. Staycationing means that it is cost-effective and convenient for everyone to meet up.

What do you love about staycationing in the autumn?




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A review of The Coniston Hotel & Spa, Skipton


When most people think of Coniston, the location that springs to mind is often Coniston in the Lake District. However, on the outskirts of Skipton, deep in the rural North Yorkshire Moors there's another Coniston, Coniston Cold.  Situated against the idyllic backdrop of the 1,400 acre Coniston Cold estate and the lake is the award-winning Coniston Hotel Country Estate and Spa. What was once a small country tea house, has now transformed into one of the UK's most loved country retreats, offering everything that is needed for an escape in the British countryside. Whether you're looking to sip cocktails in an infinity pool or test your adrenaline and driving skills on their off-roading track, have a go at one of the UK's top voted clay pigeon shooting ranges or feast on the estates culinary treats, there's something for everyone. To see what all the fuss is about, I was invited down to the hotel to experience just a few of the things they have to offer.


The Estate

The Coniston Cold estate is over 1,400 acres of beautiful woodland and a 24-acre lake. Open to all day visitors and hotel residents, the estate is wonderful to walk around, especially in the autumn as the leaves are turning gold and amber. It features an array of wildlife from swans to wild rabbits, pheasants and ducklings, as well as the estates' livestock such as cows and sheep.  It's a great place to unwind, step away from technology and be at peace with nature - perfect for families and couples alike.


The rooms

The hotel features 71 bedrooms, ranging from classic to superior and luxury bedrooms. Prices start from an affordable £99 and all of which are pet-friendly. During our visit, we stayed in the luxury bedroom which included a balcony overlooking the grounds, a large bathroom and a separate walk-in shower. The room had all the essentials such as hairdryers, tea and coffee making facilities as well as Aromatherapy Associates skin and bath care. The bed was incredibly comfy, the rooms were quiet and we loved being able to sit out on the balcony first thing in the morning and absorb the view. 


The spa

The spa is one of the newer additions to the Coniston Cold estate, which was added just over two years ago. It features a wide range of facilities such a 15m indoor swimming pool, a thermal suite which includes a Himalayan salt sauna, indoor bubble pool, sauna and steam room, treatment rooms, a fitness studio, gym, a brasserie and the star attraction, a stunning outdoor infinity pool overlooking the lake. The spa was clean and modern and the treatment rooms were relaxing and inviting, we really enjoyed our few hours relaxing by the pool and our couples massage. The massage took 60 minutes and the staff were really attentive and took the time to ask me what areas I would like them to focus on. In my day job, I spend a lot of time hunched over a computer so my shoulders and neck often get strained, the massage really helped to relieve some of the pressure points and get rid of knots that had built up over the last few months.  Our only criticism of the spa and spa area is that the Nourish Brasserie is far too small for such a large spa - it would have been great to have had lunch there before we checked out of our hotel, but they had limited seating and everything was all booked up. The menu caters for vegans, vegetarians and those who are gluten-free, so if you're looking to have a spa break at the Coniston Hotel, it looks like it is definitely worth booking a table.


The food

Despite not being able to get a table at the Nourish brasserie, we were well catered for throughout other areas of the hotel. The Coniston Hotel and Spa has two additional restaurants - The Huntsman Lodge which is catered towards casual dining and the a-la-carte Macleods which is a formal evening restaurant. Although both restaurants primarily serve food which is reared on the estate, they both went above and beyond to cater for our special vegan diets, providing us with our own special menu for both lunch and dinner - this is available on request as long as you notify them in advance. The menu included a variety of risottos, stuffed mushrooms, bruschetta as well as some creative desserts such as poached pears and cashew cream. One of my favourite dishes was the salt baked carrots and walnuts - this was essentially just carrots on a plate, but the flavour derived from salt baking them was incredible. It was great to see skilled chefs being able to be creative with vegan dishes, rather than putting together a simple salad and this was very much appreciated.


The activities

There's a whole range of activities available to book at The Coniston Hotel and Spa from clay pigeon shooting to falconry, archery, fishing and off-roading. I was kindly booked on to the off-roading experience on my first day of the visit and falconry on the second, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was really nervous about off-roading as I'm quite an anxious driver, but after a briefing session with the team, my nerves diminished and throughout the course, the instructor helped me relax and enjoy myself. It started out as the activity I was dreading the most but ended up being one of the best things I have done in a long time, I'm even looking to go back in 2018. The falconry experience was also something I was a little bit apprehensive about. Firstly, I was nervous about having a few big birds fly into me and from an animal welfare perspective, I had heard a lot of negative things about falconry in the past. However, after seeing the birds and their keeper it was clear how well they are looked after and cared for. The birds were absolutely beautiful and it was a wonderful experience to be so close to some big birds of prey.

If you're looking for an escape to the country that is a little bit different to your standard spa break, I would definitely consider looking at The Coniston Hotel and Spa, it is somewhere I'm already planning on going back.

Have you been to the Coniston Hotel and Spa?


*This stay was complimentary, however, all views are my own



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Vegan Night at Brasserie Blanc Leeds Review


Dining out when you first turn vegan can be a troublesome affair with many restaurants not entirely knowing what 'veganism' really is and many having very limited options. Unfortunately, it isn't a rare occurrence for vegans to be handed a plate of vegetables, while their carnivorous counterparts tuck into a three-course meal with all the trimmings, most of which can be easily adapted to plant-based if the chef has an imagination. Thankfully for a lot of vegans out there, over the last twelve months, there has been a rise in popularity in veganism, subsequently leading to more restaurants offering vegan options than ever before.  Wagamama, Nandos, Pizza Express, Zizzis, to name but a few, have all jumped in on the plant-based action and added more options to their menus.

Earlier this week, I headed out with my husband to a vegan night held at my local Brasserie Blanc in Leeds. This was an entirely one-off, bespoke event, which was the brainchild of one of the managers after seeing an increase in vegan customers. They decided to test their chefs' culinary skills and create a three-course meal for one night only, in hope that would become popular and they could put on more of these events in future.


I love Brasserie Blanc due to their fresh produce, beautiful tab settings and relaxing ambience of their restaurants. I had been a few times when I was vegetarian but never vegan, so I was excited to see what they had to offer. The menu had been curated using seasonal, fresh produce and there were a plethora of options which was a delight to see. As a 'newbie' vegan, it was great to have the opportunity to sample some vegan a-la-carte food without feeling like the 'awkward' customer.


For starter, I opted for the 'Wild Mushroom Fricasse' which arrived with a side of bread. The mushrooms were cooked to perfection, with the perfect amount of herbs and oil, with the juices seeping to the bottom of the bowl - perfect for mopping up with a slice of fresh, crusted white bread. The portion was filling and generous and it was a great to start the meal.


In between courses we ordered a glass of wine from the specially created vegan wine menu for the evening. It was great to see that level of detail going into the menu as many people automatically assume that all alcohol is vegan when this isn't the case, as most wines, unfortunately, are filtered using fish. For my main course, I choose the chickpea cakes which a smoky tomato dressing and chickpea salad -this again was a delight. The manager informed me that this used to be on the menu and was quite a popular dish, I hope they add this back as I would definitely return for it.


The creme de la creme, the finale of the evening was the most beautiful coconut creme brulee that I've ever eaten. It tasted incredibly light but moreish with a soft vanilla coconut cream and a crunch sugared top. It tasted just like a dairy creme brulee, but even better and it was light on the palette and left you feeling refreshed at the end of the meal. 

The meal came to around £60, which included a complimentary glass of prosecco, three courses for two adults and a coffee (along with soya milk) at the end, which I think is a fantastic price. I'm a little bit disappointed that this is a once off as I would love to experience this all again, but I am grateful for the wonderful meal and the attention to detail of all the staff. It was great to see a business in the local community doing more for vegans and championing vegan food, hop, fully it will lead to more restaurants doing the same.

Have you been to a Brasserie Blanc before?



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Five ways to boost body confidence



Body confidence is something that I struggled with my entire life. I was a chubby child and often got bullied due to the way I looked and by the time I was in my teens my weight had reached just over 14 stone and I was size 18. For years I hid under baggy clothes, hoping no-one would judge me. When I was 18 I decided that I needed to change the way I looked for good and over a year and a half, I had shed five stone and several dress sizes. I had gone from a size 18 to a tiny size 8, yet my demons never managed to escape me. I was generally happier with the way I looked, but still each day I looked in the mirror and compared myself to others, in fact, I was probably more fixated on my weight when I was at my smallest than my largest, it was knowing that my body could lose all this weight that made me think I could do even better. At just the right time, I met my husband and for the first time in my life, I felt at ease with my body. However, fast forward two years and I was diagnosed with two crippling illnesses which saw my weight gradually creep back on. Although I had only gained two stone out of five back, I felt deflated, like all my previous hard work was for nothing.  I battled for years to lose the weight, but my body would not let me. Earlier this year I decided to go on a health kick, cutting out as much junk from my diet and trying to ensure I'm getting all the vitamins and nutrients my body needed to keep my symptoms at bay. I wasn't trying to lose weight, my main focus was health, but gradually the weight started coming off. When I went to the doctors for a health check-up a few weeks ago, I was told that I had lost a stone and a half - through eating healthy and not starving my body or rushing, my weight managed to reach it's happy medium all on its own.

Yesterday I slipped into a dress that I wouldn't usually wear from online retailer LOTD and for the time, I felt like I had reached my happy self.  A few months ago I would not have dared to wear lace around my midriff or a body-con skirt, but here I am today. In fact, the last few weeks I have been feeling a lot better about myself and although weight loss has contributed slightly, it is mainly due to the fact that I've been eating healthy and pushing myself to be as positive as I can be. There will always be days that we have our body hang-ups, but the more we push these feelings aside and just look after our body, the better we will feel. Today I thought I would share with you five tips to achieving body confidence. If you're not a naturally confident person, achieving body confidence can be a difficult journey, but with these tips hopefully, it will put you in the right direction.

Surround yourself with positive people

Always surround yourself with positive people. Have friends that are able to put a smile on your face when you need it the most and associate with people who live life to the full and don't spend too much time worrying.

Dress up

The way we dress can have a huge effect on the way we feel about our bodies and also how other people perceive us. Experiment with clothes to find the outfits that make you feel the best and wear these clothes when you're in need of a pick me up.

Have a healthy outlook

Instead of thinking 'I must lose weight', think 'I must be healthy'. Nourish your body from the inside and it will help your overall appearance and most importantly, your wellbeing.

Get active

Exercise is not only great for keeping us fit and healthy, but it also releases endorphins which can make us feel happier. When we're happier, we are less likely to worry about how we look.

Stop comparing yourself to others

We're all guilty of comparing ourselves to other people, but it is one of the worst things you can do for your confidence. Every day we will pass people in the street that we believe is our idea of perfection, but deep down they all have bad days too. In fact, there's probably a lot of people who pass you in the streets and think they would like to look like you without you even noticing. We all have our imperfections and we are all unique, that is what makes us so special.

What are your body confidence tips?

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