Six vegan chocolate brands that taste better than dairy ones

Coco Caravan date bar

If you can’t consume dairy products, it’s hard to get a chocolate fix when you need it. Thank goodness for these six artisans of vegan chocolate! Each different in their own way and easy to find, they are supplying the demand for quality, delicious vegan chocolate one bar of rich cocoa at a time. Read on to discover your next best friend.

Divine

Divine Dark Selection

This fair-trade company is owned by chocolate farmers all over the globe, so both you and the farmers get a good deal with every bite. Divine chocolate, available in bars, eggs and cute novelty shapes, is divine by name and divine by nature. A personal favourite is the 70% dark chocolate with raspberries; the cocoa flavour is robust and creamy, while the tartness of the fruit pieces pokes through.

Booja-Booja

Booja Booja Hazelnut crunch truffle

As a vegan, you tend to lose hope of receiving a scrumptious box of choccies on a special occasion. If this sounds familiar, point your friends and family in the direction of Booja-Booja, makers of rich, indulgent vegan truffles. They literally melt in your mouth (I thought this was merely a turn of phrase until I tried these), plus they’re dairy, gluten and soya free with a leaning towards organic ingredients.

Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat Fruit and Nut frenzy slab

Unlike a lot of chain chocolatiers, Hotel Chocolat have gone to really good lengths to accommodate vegans. The vegan chocolates have much more cocoa and less sugar than their milky counterparts and have won awards for their quality. The fruit and nut frenzy (pictured above) is a heavenly slab of crunchiness, chewiness and sumptuous meltiness.  Yes, it’s so good I made up descriptive words.

Moo Free

Moo Free mini moos

One of the most commonly available vegan chocolate brands (try Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Holland and Barrett), Moo Free makes fun everyday treats that are affordable and satisfy a chocolate craving. They make mini bars, big bars, buttons, advent calendars and eggs. In other words, with their rice milk based goods, they make sure vegans can join in with occasions like everybody else.

Coco Caravan

Coco Caravan

This start-up’s chocolate is so pure it’s almost unbelievable: no additives, no preservatives, no dairy, no gluten, no soy and no refined sweeteners. With just two key ingredients – ethically sourced raw cacao and unrefined raw Coconut Blossom Nectar – Coco Caravan makes and package everything by hand in Cardiff. The bars and sweet treats come in exciting flavours and varieties, making vegan chocolate fun.

Montezuma’s

Montezuma truffle grand collection

Family owned British company Montezuma’s pushes the mould when it comes to vegan chocolate. They specialise in making perfect matches between different spices, herbs, essential oils and cocoa strengths. It’s not just bars here – they have moreish truffles, chocolate engulfed fruits and luxury drinking chocolate, all of which are an absolute joy worth savouring.

Know any other vegan chocolate companies? Share your favourites below or tweet us @Creative_Hacks and we’ll spread the word (and have a nibble).

Amy sig

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Vintage restyled: Cardiff’s Castle Emporium

Cardiff Castle Emporium general outside shotFor the past two years, the old converted cinema opposite Clwb Ifor Bach was home to Cardiff Fashion Quarter, the go-to place for vintage clothing and knick-knacks. While it had a lot to offer fashionistas, it was perhaps quite limited, both in its offering and the layout of the space.

Relaunched by new owner James Morgan-Rees, CFQ has transformed into The Castle Emporium. While some of the old traders remain (Rock-ola Reborn, Eagle Eye Vintage, AMARAS), there is a new range of stalls, i.e. a whole lot more vintage-gem-hunting to get excited about.

We took a walk around the Emporium, snapping some of the independent businesses that have set up shop.

Cardiff Castle Emporium aerialThe view from the first floor – the colourful stalls are a treat for the eyes

Cardiff Castle Emporium candle tinsRoughneck Candles recycle pocket sized tins by turning them into kitsch homeware

Cardiff Castle Emporium minotaur booksJust some of the bookshelves at Minotaur Books, who stock everything from popular poetry to obscure dystopian literature

Cardiff Castle Emporium Al's Musique BoutiqueCardiff Castle Emporium bow ties suitcase Cardiff Castle Emporium horse whiskyAl from Al’s Musique Boutique poses alongside vintage clothing and accessories for gentlemen

Cardiff Castle Emporium mario kart yoshi playstation 2Cardiff Geek Party‘s shop houses games memorabilia, retro consoles and stacks of bargain computer games

Cardiff Castle Emporium Super Mario Bros gaming stationWe’ll be heading back here for the Mario Tournament. There’s a different game leaderboard each month; Matt’s hoping he gets a chance to show off his Crash Team Racing expertise

Cardiff Castle Emporium vegan chocolate cake Cardiff Castle Emporium vegan snacks chocolateSo many yummy treats at Simply V, including marshmallows, wagon wheels and chocolates – and they’re all vegan!

Cardiff Castle Emporium vintage clothes Rock-olaCardiff Castle Emporium vintage jumpers Cardiff Castle Emprium shelves of bric a bracFor fans of upcycling and vintage fashion, there are stacks of menswear, womenswear and accessories to dig through

With the rejuvenated vintage haven sitting firmly at the top end of Womanby Street, it makes what is already a culturally busy passageway even more exciting. Take a stroll winding around the Emporium then down to Urban Tap House; you won’t be disappointed.

Know any other great spots in Cardiff for finding vintage treasures? Comment below or tweet your suggestions @Creative_Hacks.

Amy sig

14 alternative date ideas for couples on Valentine’s Day

15018392488_59306af6c0_kIf you’ve got someone to share the annual day of love with (wahoo!), you’ll want to make the night memorable. Picking one of these alternatives to the traditional wine-and-dine dinner date will ensure you both have lots of fun, get to spend quality time together and have something to look back on in the future. There’s no expiry on these ideas, by the way, so even if it’s not February 14th you can still win hearts in a creative and thoughtful way that beats the norm.

1. Complete a jigsaw puzzle

indoorAs a society, we have forgotten the joy of connecting oddly shaped pieces of cardboard together to create a picture. Yes, jigsaw puzzles are still as fun as they were when you first assembled those 25-piece pre-school masterpieces. Allow your date the honour of putting the magical final piece in place and watch their heart melt.

2. Buy tickets for a band you’ve never heard before

Discovering something new together is always memorable. Seek out a hotly-tipped band that neither of you have listened to and buy a pair of tickets. If the band’s great, you can show off your best (or worst) dance moves, pretend to know all the words and listen to their album together next time you hang out. If they suck, you can chill by the bar and discuss your superior music tastes over rounds of shots.

3. Borrow a dog

Dog walkies on lead - credit to amtaylorphotographyIf you and your date both love dogs but aren’t able to have one due to other life commitments, Borrow My Doggy is for you. The website links up dog owners with eager animal lovers, hosting a massive network of pooches that need someone to play with. It’s a perfect opportunity to get outdoors and do something different together while bonding over a shared love of puppies.

4. Host a themed movie night

Cuddling up on the sofa and sticking on a DVD is cosy, but we know you can do better. Take your movie night to another level by preparing themed drinks and snack foods to nibble on while you watch. For example, a viewing of The Big Lebowski can be accompanied with a pair of classy White Russians, while Tarantino fans can knock up their own version of the infamous ‘Five Dollar Shake’ or build a tasty ‘Big Kahuna Burger’ while watching Pulp Fiction. Bonus points if you wear fancy dress.

5. Enrol in a class

Watercolours and brushEven if you have completed your formal education, that doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. Plenty of extra-curricular classes are out there to teach you skills and help you to find new hobbies. It can be nerve-wracking going alone, but invite a date along and you’ll have a great opportunity to reveal a different side of your personality.

6. Volunteer for a cause you both support

Doing good for somebody else is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. If you don’t have a lot of money to spare for charities, volunteering can be a great way to support a cause you care about. If you and your date are passionate about the same issues, helping to make the world a better place while spending time together is an absolute win-win.

7. Play board games together

7366181556_9201aa0f3d_kDust off those classic board games in the cupboard (or find some treasures in a charity shop) and prepare to get competitive. If you want to get really geeky with it, draw up a league table and invite other couples along for regular board game nights. Plenty of pubs and bars keep a collection of games for punters to play with if you fancy getting out of the house – our favourites in Cardiff are Brewdog and Porter’s.

8. Watch live action sport at a local arena

It doesn’t matter if neither of you are hardcore followers of your regional wrestling team or even whether you know the rules; it’s the taking part (in the crowd) that counts. Buy last minute tickets on the cheap, pick a side and shout along with the devout fans around you. We tried this at a Tiger Bay Brawlers roller derby bout. I had no idea what was going on but had an absolute blast.

9. Venture somewhere new

338796_10150984867020270_496608346_oGrab a map of the local area and pick somewhere at random to walk or drive to. Treat the excursion as a mini-adventure, taking photos of landmarks along the way and any funny incidents that happen. One of my favourite pictures of Matt is one of him cleaning cow dung off his shoe, partly because it was hilarious (sorry, Matt) and also because it was taken on a lovely walk we did (mostly the first point).

10. Seek out something neither of you care about

Here’s the logic: by going to something neither of you would ordinarily opt to go to, you’re both starting on the same clueless and neutral footing. Pick a film at the cinema that sounds like something you’d usually ignore, watch a play by the local am-dram circuit or wander around a random exhibition at an art gallery. You may both love it, both hate it or have different opinions. Whatever the reaction, it’ll get you talking and experiencing something new together.

11. Complete a computer game together

crash3Video games are not just for boys. Game-fearing girls, now is your chance to impress. Grab the second controller, speed-read the manual and let your other half guide you through the imaginary pixel world that stole his heart years before you were on the scene. Once you know what you’re doing (or even just kind-of get it), kick digital butt together. You’ll probably find you have your own special role in the tag team. I like collecting things and running away from the baddies on platform games (pacifist/sucker for animated trinkets).

12. Visit an animal sanctuary

2604954713_9c0859548d_b“So cute!” “So cuddly!” “Awh, look at his face!” You too could find yourself cooing over fluffy friends with your other half. Feel the fuzzy excitement and mushiness that comes from perusing corridors of big-eyed pets calling out for an owner. A word of advice: leave your bags at home, or else risk the urge to sneak off with a kitten on your way out.

13. Get crafty for each other

Gather some crafty bits from your old art cupboard (or some items with crafty potential out of the recycling bin, like cardboard or bottles), Google an easy craft project and follow the tutorial together. Your lucky partner will be the proud owner of your masterpiece and vice versa, so even if it’s ugly as roadkill it doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts, right?

14. Set up camp

marshmallowIt’s relatively easy to book an overnight stay in a nice hotel, but it’s also costly and somewhat traditional. Go off the beaten track to a luxurious campsite – one with running water and hot showers. Here you can bond while putting up your tent, heating a hearty meal on the fire and snuggling up under the stars. Bring plenty of yummy food and travel games to keep it fun, and lots of wet wipes so that you both feel fresh.

If you find success with any of these, or if you have your own recommendation for a humdrum-free date, share it with a comment below or tweet @Creative_Hacks. Spread the love!

Amy sig

Six tips to stay warm without turning up the heating

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Oh, winter. The season of sipping hot drinks beside a roaring log fire while watching the snowflakes fall. It can also be the most expensive season in terms of heating bills. Nobody likes being cold in their own home, but rather than turning the thermostat to a tropical 30 degrees, try some of these easy, low cost tricks to stay cosy without it costing the earth.

1. Insulate yourself

The first thing to do if you’re feeling chillsome is to wrap yourself up. Put loose layers on top of loose layers to give yourself maximum insulation. Girls, pop a pair of tights under your leggings or jeans, and guys, layer up socks and sweaters. By keeping the layers loose, you trap more heat and allow blood circulation, meaning heat will spread around your body better.

2. Jump around

Jack Russell Terrier dogs jumping with ball
Exercise may not be the most appealing activity when you’re cold and grouchy, but just thirty star jumps can give you a quick and free heat boost. You can also do simple things like running on the spot, lunging or practicing your dance moves ahead of the weekend.

3. Mind the gaps

Take a few minutes to look carefully at your windows, doors and walls. If you have a gap between the bottom of your doors and the flooring, plug it with a draught excluder (or, for a makeshift version, the leg of a pair of tights that has been stuffed with socks). Make sure all windows are tightly shut and sealed. If there are any little holes in your walls or small gaps where cold is coming in from outside, use duct tape as a temporary sealer. In the long run, you may want to think about sealing these air holes properly.

4. Central eating

Hot chocolate with cream and sprinkles in teacup
Nothing seems better than hugging a mug of freshly made tea, coffee or hot chocolate when the weather turns. Make your own, or head out for a treat in a local café every now and again (cafés are a source of free central heating too, so look for one with steamy windows!) Some people report feeling much warmer in winter after they have eaten something really cold; if you can brave a sub-zero ice cream, give the theory a try.

5. Grab a hottie

Cuddle up to a hot water bottle, a microwavable heat pack or a human hottie. The heat from them will transfer to you and the air around you, so your shivers will stop in no time. You could also pop a thick blanket on top of you and your hottie to further raise the temperature.

6. Cook up some warmth

Baking pumpkin pie with pastry leaf decoration
Like you need an excuse to get a tray of cookies or fudgy brownies on the go! Not only will baking deliver delicious warmth right to your core, the heat from the oven will transfer all around the room. Did someone say cake?

If you have any more ideas on how to keep warm without cranking up the heating, let us know in the comments below or drop us a tweet @Creative_Hacks.

Amy sig

How to make spicy root vegetable and lentil one-pot


January can be a bit of a miserable month. When it’s wet and windy outside and Christmas is just a memory, sometimes all you want after work is a warm home and some delicious food to cosy up with.

This is the perfect recipe for those nights – a warming one-pot casserole (or stew, depending on how runny you like it) with loads of spicy flavour and wholesome seasonal veg. The lentils bulk it out, add moreish taste and hearty texture. Matt loves his with a dollop of plain yoghurt sprinkled with paprika, but tomato ketchup or balsamic vinegar would also go well with this dish. One thing is a must – a good chunk of wholemeal bread for dipping and mopping up every last bit.

Ingredients

(makes four servings)
4 carrots
4 parsnips
1 swede
1 large brown onion
100g dried red lentils, rinsed
1 vegetable stock cube
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp dark soy sauce
3 bay leaves
3 tsp dried mixed herbs
3 tsp curry powder
Ground black pepper and salt
Plain flour

Method

choppedveg1. Peel and roughly chop all of the vegetables.

2. In a large saucepan or casserole pot, lightly fry the onion on a medium heat for four minutes or until brown. Toss in the chopped vegetables and garlic, stirring every 30 seconds to stop them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Keep this up for about four minutes.

3. While the vegetables are cooking, dissolve the stock cube in a pint jug of boiled water. Add the tomato puree, soy sauce, bay leaves, mixed herbs, curry powder, salt and pepper to the stock and stir.

4. Pour the stock mixture and lentils into the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the stew to a boil then turn it down to a low to medium heat. Allow it to simmer for around 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

cooking5. After simmering, the vegetables and lentils will be soft and full of stocky flavour. If you want to make the consistency thicker, sieve a tablespoon of plain flour into the saucepan, stir and continue to simmer for three minutes. If it’s still not as thick as you’d like, just repeat this step. To thin down the stew, add a small amount of boiled water and allow to cook for three minutes. Serve in big bowls with warm bread for dipping. Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaves (they’re not edible!).

We hope you enjoy this winter warmer as much as we do, especially if you’re embarking on the Veganuary challenge! Let us know if you have any suggestions for other delicious wintery recipes – we’d love to try them out and share them here on the blog.

Amy sig