Tolhurst Organic

I’ve been wanting to visit Tolhurst Organic, nestled near the Thames, on the Hardwick Estate, for a long time. I remember looking up their open day last year and realising that I’d missed it by a matter of days. This year I was more attentive to my calendar …

Tolhurst Organic isn’t just an organic farm but a stockfree organic farm, producing and distributing around 120 tonnes of vegetables every year. Such farms are few and far between with the term ‘stockfree’ meaning that the farm is run not just without pesticides and artificial fertilisers (as in standard organic farms) but also without any animal input i.e. livestock manures or slaughterhouse by-products. In this sense, their produce can be said to be truly vegan. They promote the use of green manures, cover crops and the use of waste tree material (from local tree surgeons) i.e. composted wood chips. Energy use is also a heightened consideration. Over the course of a year the farm’s total carbon footprint is the same as an average UK house …

With a pint of mulberry cordial in hand, free books on offer, a tour of the garden by Iain ‘Tolly’ Tolhurst and meeting other members of the team, it was pretty much a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

For more information, see Tolhurst Organic and on stockfree farming more generally, Vegan Organic.


Same old, same old ...

Little has changed since 2008 when I started this erratic space. I am still on a quest to refine rather than add to my wardrobe. I am still keen to make any additions to the said wardrobe organic and ethically produced and I still err from this quest every so often, seduced, as in the past, by offerings from Stella McCartney for Adidas (which works on a sustainable requirement percentage) and Lisette (see below, whose pieces, to me at least, are timeless and increasingly use organic fabrics).

All photographs © Stella McCartney for Adidas.

Lisette S/S 2014

All photographs © Lisette.



I bought my first ‘new’ item of clothing this year in the Liv sale … an organic cotton tabard. With my parcel came some freebies, including samples from the skincare company Santaverde and their beautiful catalogue (above) which features their land in Andalusia where they grow and process (by hand) their organic aloe vera – the cornerstone of their range. A huge bonus, to me, is that the products are not only organic, but vegan too. The company wholly rejects animals testing and offers support to abandoned animals …

I’ve never been able to understand why people pay ridiculous sums of money for ‘miracle’ creams full of, let’s be blunt, chemicals and water. At Santaverde instead of water they use the aloe juice full of plant enzymes, vitamins and antioxidants rather than water. As a plant oil girl myself (there’s an oil in the Santaverde range) and someone who generally concocts their own potions, I particularly like the fact that the company sells the organic aloe juice, leaves and plants to those of us who are never happier than when tinkering around in the kitchen ourselves …


Lent, sugar, wholefoods and obsessions

I go through these funny minor obsessions. Sometimes they last for mere hours, triggered by a smell or a passing glance at something online. Sometimes they last a little longer. Lent is a good example. I’m a Buddhist but live in a society where Christianity looms as a significant undercurrent – Easter and Christmas are widely celebrated and I go along with their seasonal flows. Something of interest always crops up.

For as long as I can remember I have given up sugar for Lent. This year was no exception. Sometimes the abstinence is easy and sometimes I struggle. This year took the latter form and was probably the hardest in memory. I have succumbed to what can only be described as the ‘sugar-rush’ a couple of times (normally I make it the whole way through) and have been constantly daydreaming of vegan treats to rustle up at the end of Lent. On my recent daytrip to Birmingham I even bought a vegan bakewell slice and was offered by the owner of 100% Vegan a taster of vegan fudge. Both were delicious. I bought a can of vegan condensed milk from there and elsewhere online some Italian, organic, vegan creams variously comprised of millet, rice and spelt. I was mentally concocting various ice-creams … but then, as quickly and strongly as these obsessions came, they went.

Easter is now over a week ago and the chocolate, as good as can be (vegan, organic, fairtrade) sits unopened. Instead, I am perusing wholefood cooking ideas here-there-and-everywhere and my current guiding direction comes from the introduction to Annemarie Colbin’s The Natural Gourmet (her italics below),

‘The dishes in this book are meatless, with only a few exceptions. It is possible to be a healthy vegetarian provided you eat whole-grain-and-bean combinations daily and a variety of vegetables of all colors. It is also imperative that you avoid the use of white table sugar and the foods containing it. Refined sugar is a pure carbohydrate, lacking in all other nutrients; therefore it creates a relative deficiency, or nutrient debt, by not providing the fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins and water present in the original sugarcane. Since the body is most naturally prepared to consume nutrients in their natural context, it responds to such a lack with a deficiency syndrome. A meatless, dairy-free diet that includes sugar will therefore weaken and demineralize you. If you decide to continue consuming sugar, please go back to eating meat, fish, or fowl …’

Of course, most people (including myself) are pretty much aware of the evils of sugar. Saying that, I am also pretty much sure that I will indulge in sugar from time-to-time. I find it interesting that even 'healthy' food websites (both raw and cooked, vegan and non-vegan) tend to be dominated by puddings, cakes and desserts once you start scanning their recipe lists ... The bombardment simply doesn't stop. For me, the 'shift' of Lent was to move from the mental aspect to the body itself. Of course, the two are indivisible, but I have really tried to process how the intake of sugar changed the way I felt within my body, instead of just my mind. It's a good place to start.


Hard Graft on the Home Front (East Sussex)

More tales of hard graft on the home front. It's the only way to make a home ... Location made me think of you - Milena Silvano!


Birmingham and 100% Vegan

Selfridges by Future Systems, now over a decade old.

Taking full advantage of the Evening Standard’s offer with Chiltern Railways for 50p return fares from London (yes, 25p each way) it was time to visit Birmingham again after two great trips last year.

Credit Crunchers

I love this city. One of the grandest Waterstone’s known to man, the fantastic daily food market, great vintage and super-friendly people. As ever, and it’s true of every city I have ever visited, I quickly bypassed the busy thoroughfares and instead concentrated on the nooks and crannies. When my feet gave way I hopped on a bus to visit Indigo Wholefoods in Moseley (I have a vague determination to visit every independent health store in the country) but in truth I could have stayed close to the city centre because of 100% Vegan. No regrets though as I passed some wondrous decaying and just-alive buildings (I used to be an architectural historian in my past life).

Moseley Road Baths, the oldest of only three Grade II listed swimming pools currently open in Britain.
100% Vegan
The Warehouse Café
Sprocket Cycles

So, 100% Vegan (known as the One Earth Shop on my past visits) nestled between the Warehouse Café/Birmingham Friends of the Earth and Sprocket Cycles. It’s a gem. Somewhat obviously, everything was vegan but old habits die hard or perhaps it’s because so many vegan establishments still offer the odd dairy concession that I blurted out with regard to the bakewell slice, ‘Is it vegan?’ It was, and it was also delicious. 100% Vegan’s owner couldn’t have been friendlier and told me about their locally sourced cakes and pastries and that if you should want something they don’t currently have in stock from further afield, just ask … My kind of independent health store.

I also visited Wolverhampton again but more on that soon …


Spring 2014

Spring finally sprung this week (along with my rhubarb) which means it’s once more time for day-trips and also a burst of renewed blogging energy. I’m not deserting this blog (I remain resolutely old-school) but will also be posting randomly on Tumblr (just how often remains to be seen).


Circular Keys

I have never used a phone or satnav to make a journey and I’m much the same on the web. I love the way that finding something the old-fashioned way (if you can call the web old-fashioned), just browsing and clicking, here-there-and-everywhere, takes you on a journey, sometimes tedious, but oftentimes sweetly rewarding when you land upon a perfect little gem.

I was looking to make a Valentine’s day cake (late as ever in blogging about this) and as the day was so gloomy I wanted something evoking sunshine. I’d always been seduced by a picture of a lemon sponge cake with passion fruit icing from an Australian vegan blog called ‘The Fairest Feed’ which was hugely inspiring in turning me vegan. Alas, the link failed because the blog had been deleted. A big yeeeeeessss though to Wellsphere which turned up a significant part of the blog (including the aforementioned cake) should anyone want to read further and investigate the great recipes ...

A few more clicks led to stumbling upon Philippa’s music website (her band is called Circular Keys) and then swiftly onto her inspirational Tumblr and Flickr (superb greenery, cakes, crafting and cafes) and finally, saving the best until last, her Tumblr food blog and contact with Pippa herself … circular keys indeed.

All pics via or © Philippa O (with thanks).


Minimalistic kick

I am still on my minimalistic kick and keen to rid my wardrobe of leather, wool, suede, silk, etc. If any of the below catch your fancy do leave your email address in the comments and I will send a brief description (inc. measurements) and more pictures should you want them. Paypal only, no returns and all items sent by recorded delivery (uk only I'm afraid) … be quick, or they will find their way onto ebay!

Brown striped wool-mix dress £14 (£4 p&p)

Brown wool and leather dress £15 (£4 p&p) & 'Richard Shops' wool dress £8 (£4 p&p)

Blue striped wool dress £10 (£4 p&p)

Puma Nuala suede and textile trainers £50 (£5 p&p) - RRP £140

Sonja Nuttall leather jacket £50 (£5 p&p) - RRP £300+

Curvy green wool coat £8 (£4 p&p)


Dead Sea Natural Black Mud Mask Soap

Sometimes my skin can be less than great, although thankfully this is restricted to the chin area (hormone related). This vegan, kosher and above all cheap bar of soap does everything that its supporters claim. Highly recommended.



I’ve been subtly motivated by Momo on the other side of the world whose beautiful blog (plus Facebook and Instagram) I have followed for many years. We’ve become friends via the internet. At the end of last year her posts became even more luminous than ever. They weren’t lengthy or ponderous they just quietly and briefly spoke of the things, past and present that had and/or were affecting her: abuse, forgiveness, break-ups, life as a single parent, the search for meaningful work, beauty and the joy of small things.

I will be following her clear-headed, honest and inspirational lead in my own sporadic postings this year because if there’s anything to truly own, it’s our unique selves.

Pictures © Momo.



Books always used to be my one exception regarding the aim of a minimalistic life, but even that has seemingly changed. I noticed last year that rather than reading new (to me) books I was re-reading old treasures instead and I even caught myself admiring the lack of books in a friend’s house (her books had been removed only because she was decorating). It’s quite the turn-around for someone whose life has always been lived weaving and tripping through piles and piles of the things …

Pictured is one of my favourite finds from last year. Selling at £65 minimum for a new hardback copy on Amazon, I picked up this Dan Pearson beauty Spirit (not just new, but signed) for a £2 steal at one of my favourite haunts. It undoubtedly falls into the ‘treasure’ category.


Ayurvedic Tweaks

Small changes for January (and the year ahead). Gentle tweaks rather than stringent undertakings in this particularly unforgiving month. I can’t recommend highly enough for those on a similarly gentle path the books Eat Right for your Body Type (originally in paperback but now in hardback too) and A Pukka Life (don’t let the titles put you off as they did me for a while). Both published by Quadrille and inspired by Ayurveda they inspire with small but significant suggestions of dietary and seasonal substitutions. For these deep winter months? Warm sesame oil in the mouth, nasya oil to bring ‘lightness and clarity’ via the nasal passages and sleeping in just a little later in the morning … all eminently do-able in my world.


Surround yourself with beauty ...

Great feature in the Saturday papers on Twig (in Tetbury), a former bakery, now flower shop, which touched on various things that are important to me, especially roots and connection. The owner spoke about how she and her husband bought their beloved home, lost it (she kissed each and every wall goodbye) and then re-bought it. It was the same connective story about restoring the property, if you don’t do the work yourself, where is the connection? Quote of the article for me: ‘If you are a creative person and you want to be happy, it is up to you to push yourself and surround yourself with beauty’.


Happy New Year! Yes, I know I’m a day late, but it never really feels like the New Year to me until the sun shines … which it did today. New Year Resolution? It’s simply to continue on my journey of minimal consumption. That’s not to say that I intend to buy nothing this coming year, just that I want to continue and strengthen my efforts in purchasing only beautiful things that can stay with me, if not forever, then a considerably lengthy period of time. More soon …!

Picture © a détacher (whose basket perfectly illustrates my point).