Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Lady-Comp You Don't Have To Put On The Red Light (actually, I guess you do!)

So yes, this is quite a personal post - family members and squeamish readers look away now! Contraception. There I said it. In the UK amongst my friends the most common forms I hear about all involve hormones. Some people love hormonal birth control, but I'm not one of those people.
I've tried out various forms of contraception over the years - the pill (many brands), Implanon and most recently the copper IUD. I have never felt comfortable using contraception containing synthetic hormones and with various types of the pill and the implant I had some pretty horrible side effects. I suffered from terrible headaches, rashes and even hair loss. The implant I had (Implanon) was painful after insertion and after having to insist for ages to nurses they removed it, only to discover it had been put in wrong and that's why it caused me so much pain.
I don't want to suffer all in the name of contraception. Seriously - 'the pill' is not this amazing revolutionary thing in women's lives that medical professionals would have you believe. Do you know the possible side effects of anything you are taking? Unfortunately some people just take what they are prescribed without question - even if you are on birth control and love it, it's important to know the pros and cons. I have a recently diagnosed autoimmune blood clotting disorder which doctors believe taking different forms of hormonal contraception for 10+ years could have helped trigger. I can't even have the 'mini pill' or Mirena which is supposed to be safer - if you read the leaflets it still has it's risks!

So, what is natural family planning then? I'd actually heard about it and researched quite a lot back in about 2008. If you're new to it, I suggest you do your own research - a good place to start is here. As well as spending HOURS online, I also read 'Taking Charge of Your Fertility' by Tony Weschler. Honestly - you might learn some surprising things about your own body! The term 'Natural Family Planning' is most often associated with religious groups, whereas FAM (Fertility Awareness Method) isn't. It's important to understand how this method works, as it might not be right for everybody - it does require a bit more dedication, and it's more suitable for people in stable relationships as it obviously doesn't offer any protection from STI's. I actually used a fertility computer successfully for several years and it was amazingly effective, but it had batteries which needed to be changed by the manufacturer and I found I wasn't able to get this done - so regretfully went back to using hormonal birth control. If you decide to use a fertility computer, I'd still urge you to read Tony Weschler's book as understanding how it all works and being able to check my other fertility signs has been really important for me so far. Understanding how your body works is an empowering thing!

'Fertility Monitors' are not a well known thing in the UK, maybe apart from the kind people buy from the chemist to help them have a baby, or Persona. Seriously, don't use Persona if you are using a monitor for contraception - it's turned out to be really unreliable and had some bad press. That's not what we are talking about here, and we're definitely not talking about the 'rhythm method' either. I hear FAM in other European countries, especially Germany - is much more popular and their health authorities advocate it as a reliable method. In the UK most doctors or nurses you might see will be keen for you to use hormonal methods and may not have even heard of FAM. If you ask your family planning clinic they DO have FPA leaflets about it along with all the other methods, but it's usually hiding at the back or not on display with the others. I could go on for ages about why this may be - but the bottom line is that FAM takes dedication & usually restraint during your fertile phases, which they don't think you'll be able to manage. It's true some people might not. Would be nice to be given the choice though, don't you think?


In steps the Lady Comp. It's a German fertility monitor made by Valley Electronics who've over 25 years experience in this field. They claim it's 'as effective as the pill' and it has a pearl index of 0.7. Once you've completed the initial set up, all you need to do is take your temprature at the right time (you can set an alarm of the device itself) as soon as you wake up and tell it the days which you are having your period. In return it'll give you red, yellow or green lights - red is your fertile days, yellow means unsure or still learning your cycle and green is 'go for it'. The idea is that it allows you to practice fertility awareness methods without having to learn all of the 'rules' and how to read your chart.


The Lady Comp itself is about the size of a CD, but thicker. Included in the box is a wall charger, manuals, the monitor and a storage pouch. "LO 05" is the charging indicator that shows charging progress whilst plugged in. The battery should last about a month before it needs recharging, meaning if you travel a lot you don't need to worry about adapters and it's even fine for camping.


Once you've set your alarm, the Lady Comp will wake you in the morning at your chosen time. One of the many reasons I chose this monitor over others is that they state it is suitable for women with small children that wake them during the night or for shift workers. The monitor has a 6 hour testing window which is 3 hours either side of the alarm you set. It's best to take your temperature after a solid period of sleep, so if my daughter wakes me before my alarm but during the testing window I can just take my temperature then. If you travel abroad you can change it to local time as well, then back again when you get home (not all monitors allow you to do this, the one I used years ago was pretty much unusable on holiday which messed up the whole cycle).


After taking your temperature the monitor will look something like this. The number displayed is my basal temperature and the red light is showing. It really is that simple! When setting up the device you can enter details for past cycles as well, so it knows on average how many days yours are. If you don't know the dates then don't worry - you don't have to input this information.


After displaying your temperature it will also display the cycle day number. The Lady Comp also allows you to check other cycle statistics such as how many cycles it has recorded in total, average length in days etc. This can be really useful information to know for doctors appointments. Once it gets to know your cycle it will also predict when your period will start.

The cons? I think the reason that stopped me using a Lady Comp sooner was the price - it seemed quite high especially as other methods of contraception are free in the UK. The standard price is £415 - whilst that might seem like a lot - they are built to last. In fact they expect it to last more than 10 years. When you take into account the health benefits and that actually it works out at about £41 per year - it seems more than worth it. If you are really interested in buying one then drop me an email and I can give you a discount code for £25 off. 

I'll probably do a follow up to this in around 6 months time to let you know how I'm getting on with it and have used it for longer. I found it quite hard to find others using one online in the UK (lots of forums in the USA and Europe talking about them) - if you have any questions please leave me a comment or send an email and I'll do my best to help!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Suma Bloggers Network - Homemade Seitan & How To Use It



I'm really pleased to be part of the new Suma Bloggers Network - I have been buying their products from independent health food shops for years now so it's amazing to be working with a company I love. Look out for my Suma recipe posts - I've got lots of yummy things in mind!

http://www.suma.coop/suma-bloggers-network/


To make seitan you'll need to get hold of some Vital Wheat Gluten. In the past I've found it quite a challenge to buy this at a reasonable price, so I was super super happy to find out that you can get it from Suma! If you can't find it, many independent health food shops are customers of Suma - I've asked mine to order some in for me. In the past my quest to make seitan even extended to me trying to make it from scratch from wholewheat flour - it's perfectly possible, but takes quite a lot of work and I've experienced mixed results.



If you've not tried this out before - don't be intimidated! It's actually really easy to make great tasting faux 'meat' and it can be really economical too. You will need either an electric steamer, or a steamer basket for a saucepan and some tinfoil as well as the ingredients.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups suma vital wheat gluten
1/2 gram (chickpea) flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 TSP smoked paprika
1 TSP garlic pepper
1 TSP onion powder
1 TSP oregano
2 TSP bullion
2 TSP reduced salt soya sauce
1 TSP hot sauce
1 TSP hickory liquid smoke (Colgin brand is vegan & available online in the UK)
1 TBSP oil
1 1/2 cups water

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl so that everything is combined well, then add the wet ingredients with the water last. I use a large silicone non stick spoon to mix everything until you are left with a large ball of 'dough' (you can use your hands if you prefer!). You want to make sure you don't over mix it, but make sure it's all combined. It'll seem quite wet, but that's on purpose - leave it to stand for about 10 minutes.


Get your steamer ready - it's time to cook! It's up to you which shapes you make, but I normally make a mixture of large 'sausage' shapes as well as some flat 'cutlet' shapes so that it can be used in a variety of ways. Divide your dough and wrap your chosen shapes loosely in tin foil to give the seitan a little room to expand whilst it cooks.


Steam your seitan for around 40 minutes, then allow to cool. It's now ready to be sliced and used however you like!
Why not try using it to make a Reuben Sandwich or in a Mac n' Cheeze Bake?

Mac 'n' Cheeze Bake


Without a doubt my various versions of mac n cheeze are firm favorites with this family. Mr B always requests it, and Small would eat this all the time if I let her. It's great severed with a side of vegetables - I often make up the toddler's dinner with one portion of mac, along with a mini corn on the cob and some broccoli florets.
I prefer to use wholewheat pasta whenever I can, so I was thrilled to find some wholewheat macaroni from Suma. I honestly have been looking for this for so long!


Ingredients

250g wholewheat macaroni (cooked and drained)
1/4 cup vegan margarine
1/4 cup plain flour
approx 500ml vegan stock made up
1 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp oil
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup sliced seitan

Cook and drain macaroni according to package instructions. Set aside.
Gently melt margarine over a low heat being careful not to burn it. Once it is all melted, add the flour and mix quickly to make a roux. 
Slowly start adding the stock a little at a time whilst whisking to ensure there are no lumps. You may not need to add it all, depending on how thick you like your sauce. 
Add the nutritional yeast and herbs and stir.
Construct your mac n cheeze by mixing the macaroni with the sauce in a large oven dish. Mix in your sliced seitan. Top with breadcrumbs and drizzle the oil across the top.
Bake at 180C for 20 - 25 minutes.


Vegan Reuben Sandwich


Reuben Sandwiches are without a doubt an 'American' thing. I don't think I've ever seen one on any menu in the UK to date - but that doesn't stop me loving them, they're the ultimate comfort food. If you've never heard of it before - it's traditionally corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing on a toasted sandwich. My 'veganised' version uses seitan and yummy homemade dressing instead!

Ingredients

2 slices rye bread
vegan margarine
1 cutlet homemade seitan
1/4 jar sauerkraut 
1 slice vegan cheeze
2 tbsps vegan mayonnaise
3 tbsps tomato ketchup
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar



To assemble your sandwich you'll want to first make the dressing. Combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, onion & garlic powder and white wine vinegar and leave to stand for 5 - 10 minutes. It's even better if you make it in advance and keep it in a jar in the fridge.
Spread margarine on the outsides of the rye bread slices, then layer inside the rest of the ingredients. Use a liberal amount of dressing and way more sauerkraut than you think you need!
Toast your sandwich until golden brown - ideal on a panini press, but you can do it in a hot pan in a pinch.