With my exercise underway and some happy feet for staying in at weekends there were only two areas to take care of. Skin care and dessert!
I delved into the back of the wardrobe and found a beautiful pink gift bag from my friend Camilla Dallerup. For the launch of her latest book, It's Not You, It's Me, she partnered with skincare company Linden Leaves, and inside the exquisite gift bag along with the book was a little bottle of their miraculous facial oil. Founded by Brigit Blair in 1995 in Christchurch, New Zealand to help care for two of her children who suffered severe eczema and allergies, Brigit began harvesting and freeze-drying roses, and blending fruit and flower oils with the unique scent of essential oil blends. It became a real labour of love for Brigit, who set out to create beautiful, effective and quality handmade natural products that were kind to the skin.
From a humble family kitchen operation, Linden Leaves has expanded into an internationally recognised brand known for its natural everyday luxury handmade products that care for your body and really do soothe the soul. Linden Leaves is only available online with shipment from New Zealand, but the wait really is worth it.
So to my favourite kind of shopping, sweet treats and chocolate! I have never had a sweet tooth, never added sugar to anything but have always loved the decadence of chocolate. Since going strict vegetarian at 9 years old and later in life vegan, I have seen the plant-based treat world evolve dramatically so I connected with two different companies, one established a little over 10 years ago and the recently launched, KetoConut.
Chelsey Rowley, co-founder of Ketoconut, founded the company in March of this year just before lockdown started with co-founder survival instructor Callum Swift. Chelsea went vegan in 2017 for health reasons and her new plant-based diet has made huge improvements to her health. "A vegan lifestyle is something I chose for both ethical reasons and out of necessity for my own personal health," she tells me. "I've suffered from a few health problems in the past and cleaning up my diet and lifestyle made all the difference. The problem was that I'm an absolute chocoholic, which doesn't fit very well into a healthy vegan lifestyle! Finding any kind of chocolate that wasn't filled with sugar, milk, soy and all sorts of other substances I tend to avoid turned out to be extremely difficult. I then met Callum who had created an all-in-one superfood spread that contained loads of micronutrients and was used to give him the calories and energy needed to spend long periods outdoors. Together, we worked to transform this spread into a delicious vegan chocolate bar with all the same superfood properties. KeCo was born from our passion for health and our absolute love of chocolate. I also really love knowing that I am not contributing to the industry of suffering by consuming animal products"
The vegan-friendly, low carb, free from refined sugar and dairy treats remain high in protein and healthy fats and a single bite covers 80% of your daily vitamin and mineral requirements, 16% of your fibre, and 11% of your protein- not to mention one of these little bites holds over 50 superfoods and super green vegetables! The boxes can be ordered via their website and come beautifully boxed, making the perfect gift.
Having sampled these healthy treats that feel incredibly naughty I can say from one chocoholic to all others out there that these bites are guaranteed to satisfy and as promised really are 'a treat without the cheat.'
"Those of us in need of a nostalgic throwback to the days of sweet shops that stocked jars of chocolate-covered everything need look no further than The Fabulous Free From Factory.
Husband and wife team Joseph and Deborah sought to create an ethical chocolate brand focused on being dairy-free and gluten-free. Both felt strongly that lactose intolerants, vegan and vegetarian customers' should have the same great taste and quality treats available to them and when they first started the company Joseph and Deborah were making batches of 60kg at a time and hand packing everything.
In a melodic voice during a much-anticipated call, Jospeh Imrie tells me a little bit about their story.
"Ten years ago when the company was created the driving force initially behind the idea was catering to lactose intolerance. Prior to that, I was Head of Buying for Grocery and Non-foods for The Waitrose Group leading the way for the growth in organic and free-from products. In that role, I met with many start-up companies catering to these new areas of consumer need. Then I was on the other side of the table and not many stores had free-from aisles. There were not a lot of treats around for vegans and vegetarians and I always wondered why that was? A few years into retirement I was looking for something to do, so my wife Deborah and I started the company. We looked for things that would appeal across the board to vegans, vegetarians and the lactose intolerant. We also wanted to be milk-free because we weren't happy with the cruelty involved in the dairy industry but we wanted to create indulgent treats! My wife and I were then vegetarian, and now my wife follows a plant-based diet and avoids all animal-based proteins and meat. My journey to full veganism is still a work in progress and like most people I am a bit emotional about it and conscious of the effects that the meat and dairy industry has on the animals and the climate and the planet.
"At the start, we decided to go with a vegetarian classification as back then the Vegan guidelines were not strict enough for us and even allowed some casein. We decided to do everything by the letter of the law and if it was going to be clean it was going to be clean from all animal products and nothing left the factory until it had been tested to the nth degree by a credited laboratory. We even went to the extent of avoiding things like cochineal a food colouring which comes from the cases of beetles. There were lots of little things that at the time people were not cognisant of, but we wanted to do it right so vegans, vegetarians and lactose intolerants could have 100% confidence in our product. From the outset, we have worked with Julian and Adrian from Plamil using their chocolate. I don't think that anyone could produce a cleaner product than these guys, they are very ethical, they just do it the right way."
What was the first product off the line? "Fudge. Nobody had ever done a milk-free fudge before so we wanted to take up the challenge."
Ten years on and their range now includes a chocolate-covered version of their fudge, coconut bites, throwback favourites of crunchee bites of chocolate covered honeycomb (no honey in sight) and chocolate covered raisins and peanuts along with the just-launched Snack Pack which sees a taste sensation of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and blueberries that dances across the tongue releasing an exquisite treat that quite simply makes you smile.
Has Joseph seen a huge increase in demand for their product since the plant-based boom?
"That's an interesting question Maria, if you look at the free-from/vegan areas in supermarkets they haven't grown by anything like the expansion that we have seen in the plant-based uplift in lifestyles, so the supply of product and the demand has increased but the space available to it hasn't been in line.
One of the reasons behind creating our products was to recreate the treats which have great nostalgia attached to them like the peanuts and raisins that many plant-based consumers thought they might never enjoy again and we wanted to give them back that choice and that food experience.
It is time for my chat with Joesph to come to an end. There has been a surprising amount of reminiscing of childhood treats as I chatted to this charismatic CEO and I am left with no doubt that this family-owned company will continue to develop and create indulgent treats for everyone; conventional products enjoyed by people for years, that seem to have been made that extra bit special in their reinvention.