All spiced up – who knew?

My method of cooking is like painting by numbers. I follow recipes to the tee, (tsp and Tbsp inclusive). I don’t think this makes me a ‘real cook’, someone who boldly invents, estimates and improvises.

I’ve a dear friend just like this, a ‘Creative Cook’, only she more often than not ‘uncooks’; a word I recently heard to describe the task of preparing raw food meals. This sounds simple enough, right? Toss a salad or plate some colourful crudités perhaps?

Not so, because I think a ‘real cook’ also needs to show some serious commitment to creating enticing, wholesome meals with as much uncompromising regularity as us mothers and homemakers do. (No flitting in, making a huge impression once in a blue moon, thank you very much!)

So it stands to reason that finding creative ways to keep meals, cooked or uncooked, interesting, three times a day, seven days a week, must involve a handful of powerful surprises. And this is where my ‘Creative Uncook’ unleashes her secret wonderment, spices!

The freedom of being able to toss in a little of this, and sprinkle a little of that into spontaneously created meals, is beautiful to watch.

I realise too that ‘real cooks’ actually sample their food while cooking, instead of relying on recipe success.  Until recently, eating didn’t necessarily mean truly tasting my food, let alone sampling it in the making. Contrary to ‘Creative Uncook’ who sees every meal preparation and sit-down occasion as an opportunity to experiment, discover, analyse and discuss the refinement and combination of ingredients.

As if I needed any further confirmation of my apparent kitchen shortcoming, last week, while tackling a kitchen cupboard clean out, I threw out spices with an expiry dating back to early 2010.

The good thing is that by eating far more plant-based foods, my taste buds have been retuned, my palette cleaned, and a new respect, awareness and gratitude for what’s on my plate, ignited. With this fresh start to each meal, together with a well-stocked assortment of spices, and the inspiration of ‘Creative Uncook’, I’ll be spicing things up a bit!

I also know now that, aside from colour and taste enhances, spices are some of nature’s most powerful healers! Here’re just a couple of the health benefits to five of my favourites;

1. Basil – this strong antioxidant increases blood circulation to the heart and brain, plus it contains magnesium which helps reduce inflammation.
2. Cinnamon – I add this to my morning’s bowl of oats. It has fibre, iron, manganese and calcium, and is a natural antioxidant. The health benefits include reduction of arthritis, boosts memory function and helps prevent yeast infections.
3. Cumin – one of my most favourite spices, which improves energy levels, aids in digestion and because it’s rich in iron and vitamin C it’s great for boosting the immune system.
4. Paprika – probably the first spice I used as a young adult, for colouring but now it’s used to give a light peppery flavour to my food. A whole paprika pepper is known to have six to nine times more vitamin C than a tomato. Because of this, it can also help absorb iron-rich foods and help keep common infections at bay.
5. Turmeric – I’ll be using this in my scrambled tofu, giving the dish a bright yellow colour and distinctive flavour. The medicinal value of this spice has been studied for its effects on preventing the spread of prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer. It’s also been known to detoxify the liver, help with fat metabolism and treat depression.

A peek into my seasonal shoe cupboard

I wish I could tell you that these are all my winter shoes. There’re more.  And I know there are seasoned vegans who wish I could tell you that all my shoes are faux leather. They’re not.  

Here’s a sampling of my shoes collection, leather and non-leather and the where and why I’ve chosen to keep, buy or have my eye on them!

On a recent trip to New York, I first saw these Kalso Earth Shoe Elite Too at Moo Shoes, a fully vegan shoe store. I got my size and preferred plum colour from http://www.planetshoes.com and they’re available online. (Only US credit cards accepted though)
Long before being aware of the price animals are paying, I was delighted to find these Candice Cooper Converse-styled boots in leather, and such a divine shade too. I’ll wear them until they need to go (I keep my shoes looking good and don’t wear scuffed, misshapen or old-looking footwear).
I love Wellies, and these Dove blue Tassel boots by Vivienne Westwood for Melissa are especially nice because of their slim and elegant fit. They’re still available online at http://www.asos.com.

While the Middle Eastern climate affords me the distinct advantage of being able to wear barely there synthetic sandals, ten months of the year, it’s the laced-up, strung-up and zipped-up winter shoe collection that have us all sweating over how to find breathable, superior quality footwear without investing in leather.

Personally I don’t see sense or justification of instantly rebuilding my shoe collection by throwing out my past leather purchases. Instead I’ve donated or sold the leather pairs that weren’t truly comfortable or not regularly worn, while I now buy only 100% man-made pairs.

Do you still think of Aerosoles as your grandmother’s brand of shoe? It’s time to visit one of their stores, as I recently did in Atlanta, US. They’ve brought in a new Italian buyer who’s selecting some fashionable choices, inspired by European footwear. Not all, but certainly some are 100% made-made, offering the quality and inner sole support that feels great underfoot! Now on sale at http://www.aerosoles.com

I still want to be a discerning shoe buyer though, and there in lies some difficulty. Leather is generally comfortable, porous and forgiving, while non-leather can be quite the opposite. Mind you, I haven’t stepped into the faux leather shoes of Stella McCartney, but how many of us can afford that anyhow?

Who would know these Unisa are about 8 years in the wearing? They’re patent leather though and, yes, patent is still real leather! Love the rubber soles for non-slip comfort, especially in a heel.

So high-end, animal-friendly designers aside, the vast majority of high-street retailers selling non-leather footwear are doing so with the intent of producing products made of inexpensive materials for competitive pricing and improved profit margins. Thereby quantity often overrides quality. This leaves the vegan shopper spoilt for seasonal choice, but scrambling for a quality-based purchase.

These are my 2nd pair purchased online. I really prefer to try, feel and walk in shoes before spending on them. I could have gone a half-size bigger, and mock patent won’t give a little nor mould to ones foot. Available at http://www.marksandspencer.com

Safe to say that finding worthy alternatives is going to take tenacity, time and trial. 

What fun!  Just the way fashion is supposed to be. These Wellies, especially the front ones with the tall cats detailed around the whole boot, are super! Recently seen, but not bought, in Migato, Qatar.
Buffalo London – that’s the problem, they’re not just called an animal’s name, they’re made from an animal who involuntarily gave up its life for fashion. Still a real classic fit and colour though.
Antarctica – a fitting name for a warm winter boot, and completely leather and fur free! I bought these from Salamander when in Vienna, braving the cold and ice! They’re waterproof, tried and tested!

Bucking this season’s leather trend

Tribes of fashion writers who sited leather as a winter 2012-13 trend could well have just hit their copy and paste buttons, as it’s neither secret nor surprise that leather has become synonymous with every year’s chilly season.

What makes this season’s leather trend stand apart for others though, are the creative and inexhaustible executions incorporated into just about every conceivable item of clothing. No longer constraint to jackets, pencil skirts and footwear, leather is being molded into dresses and an abundance of seasonal separates.

This certainly brings a chill to my spine and, no doubt, to so many other animal-lovers who have decided that their love and respect for animals includes not willingly supporting an industry that encourages us to wear the skins of cows, pigs, kangaroos and, yes unknowingly, even cats and dogs.

Faux leather ankle boots by Stella McCartney, who this week was named British Designer of the Year. She works only with faux leather!

For those not ready to contemplate the horrors of the leather industry, one only need know this; it hurts! Not only in the death of animals to this end, but in the health of workers who inhale the highly toxic, potentially carcinogenic chemicals used in making leathers ‘butter soft’ and durable.

Then there’s our environment to consider. The tanning process, essential in preventing leather from biodegrading – which would cause it to rot right off fashion-forward feet and leather trimmed bodies, involves high levels of waste of harmful pollutants, precious water reserves and hundreds of thousands tons worth of chrome shavings destined for landfills.

Knowing just this, surely makes leather loose some of its ‘must-have’ appeal?

I’ve quickly come to realise that it’s not such a big step from perceiving leather as a ‘precious textile’ to ‘perverse packaging’. This coming from a ‘discerning’ buyer and wardrobe stylist who, less than a year ago, only bought shoes that boosted the leather mark under sole! My 180-degree shift proves that, with active awareness, compassion and well-placed buying power, it’s well within our grasp to positively contribute of the world’s healing.

Celebraties including Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth Hurley and Eva Longoria are wearing Jill Milan classic, luxurious and faux leather bags.

The more consumers ready and willing to buck this season’s harming trend, simply by making this winter a leather-less buying season, the bigger and faster the healing.  It’s not as difficult as one may think. Let’s face it, fashion (not to be mistaken with style) is fickle and appeals directly to our vanity. So once we get over ourselves, and make the shift in support of gentler animal-friendly alternatives, it can become a welcomed and gratifying experience.

For me, as a world citizen, mother, personal stylist, and animal-friendly person, I see this fashion trend for what it is, unnecessary. So when next I have someone ignorantly labeling my non-leather buying as ‘extreme’, I’ll be sure to challenge their thinking by asking them to really consider this; “which is more extreme; not purchasing leather or frivolously supporting an industry that stands for such gross negligence to our planet, mankind and animals?”

It’s time to start thinking, learning and then finding comfort in our own skins!

Earlier this year American designer, John Bartlett made Fashion-Week history with the debut of the first ever eco-luxe, 100% cruelty-free menswear collection at New York’s autumn/winter 2012-13 showing.