27 May 2018

Beet & New Veg: Spring at Brasserie Blanc #BunnyFriendlyFavourites

2018 may come with bamboozling British weathers, bumbling world leaders and a mean bean called Brexit, but one silver lining has truly shone bright: SUN Flowers. Aka plant power and cruelty-free living. Tesco now have a 'director of plant-based innovation' and Waitrose are set to launch an exclusively 'vegan' section next month, in collaboration with The Happy Pear. What a wicked and wonderful pear  they are, but they're far from the only ones. 

From 'no-bull' burgers and holy cow-free cheeses, to shroomdogs and beet-iful buddha bowls, Sainsbury's, M&S and Iceland are also paving a plant-based path. We don't need Professor Trelawney to predict that 2018 will go down as the point-of-no-return; The year that mainstream society joined in the "the cruelty-free crusade"; chose to be strong and stand with the bunnies. Somewhere beyond the factory farm there is a world we can set FREE. Before you know it, auditions will be starting for Les Animales: the musical and I can fulfil my childhood dream of becoming a Lyricist and  use this post as a CV! 

As existing readers of this blog will know, I tend to get carried away with my analogies... In short, the world is finally listening and the UK Restaurant scene is no different. What's more, Les Animales could stay true to its French roots. One man who has definitely listened to the song of our animal friends is Brasserie Blanc founder Raymond Blanc. Now, if you were asked you to describe a Veggie French menu, you'd be forgiven for reciting something along the lines of...

 Starter: Baked Camembert/Goats Cheese Soufflé  
Main Course: Spinach and Gruyere Crepes
Dessert: Creme Brûlée, Creme Caramel
*or just skip straight to Fromage and Fondu*

*...and let's not forget Mr Potato's famous French relatives - Monsieur Gratin et Mademoiselle Dauphinoise - along with the sauces for all-courses: Bernaise and Hollandaise (is anyone else picturing Monica Gellar right about now?)

Let's just say that, if you don't like cheese, you might feel a bit cheesed off in a 'traditional' french Bistro! What's more, options you may assume would be veggie/vegan are anything but: Soup L'Ognion is made with beef stock, bisques are best friend to the bacon lardon and then, of course, there's foie gras - or, as I like too call it, foie aarggh, because there's nothing 'faux' about it

    "Somewhere beyond the Factory  
Farm there is a world we can set Free"

Nonetheless, Brasserie Blanc has become my favourite high-street restaurant, surpassing even Las Iguanas and their dedicated Veggie-Vegan menu. I think the runaway success of the "veganuary night" was a big incentive, as the Bristol branch have started doing a vegan night every month, while  the set menus now have a vegan option for each course.

Yet I'm here to talk about what's cooking a la carte and, true to form, the grass is just as green. Earlier this Spring, we made two visits to Bath's Brasserie Blanc in the space of three weeks. We first went with family friends, a week before the Spring Menu launch, yet couldn't resist returning after we saw the new options - kudos to Brasserie Blanc's social media manager, your email and twitter promotions hit the right note!


17 May 2018

The Silver Linings Playlist #MHAW18

Like books, crafts and the wizarding world, I passionately believe that music is its own form of therapy. Dumbledore himself said music was "a magic beyond all we do here" and, back in the muggle world, 400,530 Instagrammers seem to agree with me; at least, their hashtags do, and we all know that hashtags don't lie.... Or was it hips? I've never actually listened to Shakira's 2005 hit the whole way through, so it could just as easily be hipflasks or hippos too.

As ever, I digress! Simply put, I rarely step foot in the 'mainstream' music scene; it would be like Hermione wandering into a club the night before an exam. It just doesn't happen! For me, music is about meaning. The nostalgia playlist was my silver lining in the first few weeks of University, whenever I felt homesick, while the study playlist has been a saving grace in the past few weeks of dissertationing (spellcheck claims that this isn't a word, but like Quidditch and Quaffle it should be.) 

 Ah, music, a magic beyond all we do here.

Nonetheless, my love of playlist-making began two years ago, when I was receiving IP treatment and struggling with the "deafening silence" of the dining room. In case my blog isn't a giveaway, I'm someone who likes to talk. A lot. So this is where The Silver Linings Playlist began. I made various CDs for the dining room, as phones strictly weren't allowed at meals - a rule that, incidentally, also applies at home and one I am fully on board with. So even if no one was talking, there was something to listen to. 

I like to think that it brought moments of comfort in very stressful circumstances - for what it's worth, I know it helped me and at least one other person! More often that not, the songs that helped us most fell under the umbrella of "nostalgia", so you may recognise some of them from my nostalgia playlist too. There's nothing quite like hearing Little Bitty Pretty One as you eat your cereal, even if my request for Matilda cheerios did fall on deaf ears...  

So here it is: my Silver Linings Playlist. I have published it to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Weekbut it is there for any week, day or moment when your thoughts are clouded and you need an escape. While it is so important to dedicate these times for mental health awareness, mental illnesses aren't aware of a calendar. They always require awareness and support. Like I said earlier, I know that music isn't a magic cure, this playlist included! Nonetheless, if it can help just one person, it's worth sharing. 

I've included some of my favourite lyrics in the 'read more'; however, if if you're going to skip to one artist, make it Dodie Clark. As someone with personal experience of mental illness, her songs truly 'get it' and also offer words of hope. I could listen to 'Secret for the Mad' on a loop and still find the lyrics just as powerful. Thank-you Dodie, for sharing your story and being unashamedly you

 I promise you, it will all make sense again.


30 April 2018

The Blog Boggart: Encountering Online Trolls and Valuing your Voice

Hello free elves. At least, I hope you can find some freedom in your day and sock it to the mind muggles. On my end, I suppose I am "socking it" to self-doubt by posting my latest youtube video, ft. my SPEW Crew (see above photo) and my first ever  giveaway

The last  time I shared the Magical Menagerie on Bumble and Be - Fantastic Beasts and Why to Free Them - I received my first anonymous comment in a very long time... and not the type you would screenshot for a rainy day! Let's just say that it was the blogging equivalent of a boggart, which I suppose makes it a bloggart?  Move over #spon #instagoals... we have a new submission for the blogosphere lexicon! 

Initially, their words tapped into my greatest fears; what people think of me as a person, what they think of my crafts and, perhaps greatest of all, that I am out of touch with reality. So, I had two options. I could listen. I could believe their words and, consequently, allow the mind muggles to control me. Or, I could listen to my own reflections in the same post, along with the magical musings of my beloved Luna:

"You’re just as sane as I am"

Three guesses who I listened to? Obviously, Luna won through. Well, I say 'obviously'... once upon a time this would not have been the case! I spent so many years trying to please others, believing that SOPHIE wasn't 'enough.' A year ago, this comment would have stupefied my crochet hook. I would have placed my copies of Harry Potter on the highest shelf of the tallest bookcase. I would have turned off the light on what I love, purely because someone condemns it.

What's more, I would have been suppressed by someone who can't even own their words. That's the thing about trolls - the real-world kind, that is; not the kind that invades Halloween and gets a wand stuck up their nose. Somewhat unfortunately, social media trolls are altogether more calculating than their wizard world counterparts. Like a boggart, they prey on your deepest insecurities and want to hurt you.

"I suppose that’s how 
They want you to feel" 

It's safe to say that, of all the characters in the wizarding world, Ms Lovegood just 'gets it'. Nevertheless, Luna is exactly the kind of person who social media trolls despise. If she was a blogger, vlogger or 'influencer' in the muggle world, I am certain there would be anonymous commentators saying she's "on another planet"; Daily Mail articles tearing apart her radish earrings, spectrespecs and copies of the quibbler. We see how Luna is bullied at Hogwarts - forced to miss the end-of-year feast, because all her possessions have been stolen.

People may think that a "children's story" has no relevance to the outside world, but Luna epitomises  the real-world challenges of being different. Social media trolls hate anyone who doesn't conform to their narrow lifeless, soulless, prejudiced way of thinking. Like the Dursleys, they are closed off to anything that doesn't stick to the status quo. They use attack as a form of defence, because they are frightened. That's the thing, trolls are frightened and that's why they hide. They are terrified of otherness and want to "stamp it out of you," to quote Uncle Vernon.
Well SOCK IT to those muggles - gone gone are the days when I would allow myself to be stomped on.  I am conscious of making a mountain out of a molehill - I would understand if people thought ' get over yourself snowflake - it was just one comment!' Except it isn't. Truth be told,  I have wanted to write this post for a long time; long before those anonymous words found my blog. I've never spoken publicly about this on my blog or other social media, but for several years I had a tumblr account, which I used to chart my mental health recovery (I emphasise 'recovery', because I was consciously avoided any 'pro-ana' blogs always sought to be a positive space).

In short, it gained more traction than I ever expected, both positive and negative. On the one hand, I know from comments that it helped a lot of people and, most importantly, it helped me. Without that account, I don't think I would have made the progress that I did; what's more, it was my first experience of genuine online friendships which have endured to this day. On the other hand, as my blog grew, so did the number of anonymous comments and some of them were... not repeatable, let's put it that way. Eventually, I disabled the anonymous button, but this couldn't dismantle the words that were already written. Where is Gilderoy when you need him?

Moreover, I saw many other people similarly targeted by trolls - including people I had grown to care a lot about - and it broke my heart. At first, I couldn't comprehend it; these were some of the kindest people I had ever 'met' and already had enough boggarts to to battle inside their own minds. Yet, on   reflection, I realised that this was the very reason they were targeted; it is far easier to project an existing narrative, then try to create one from scratch.
For what its's worth, I want to stress that I am not condemning the concept of criticism! In the world of celebrity and 'influencers', I  feel that the word 'haters' has become a bit of a 'get out of jail' card for handling criticism. For example, one of my longtime favourite vloggers recently collaborated with Rimmel, a couple of years after filming a video on non-cruelty-free brands and calling out "companies who care more about profits than bunnies". So when I saw her promote a brand who does "sell out" and test on animals, I took to twitter and called her out. In her eyes, this may make me a 'hater', but I stand by what I said.
In the same light, I was an unashamed fan of JackMaate's video on the Zoella advent calendar. He was called out as a 'hater' by blindly-devoted fans, but his videos don't go in blind: he has the evidence to back it up! He made this very point in his recent video on Casper Lee, which is really worth watching. Only yesterday, I was having a *healthy* debate with my dad over an article in the paper and retracted one of my comments. I openly acknowledged I 'didn't have all the facts' and moved on from there.

"If you’re holding out 
for universal popularity, 
I’m afraid you will be 
in this cabin for a long time."

No one is above criticism, especially when you put your views out there. I acknowledge that, by leaving a digital 'footprint', others are free to analyse my tracks. Nonetheless, There is a big difference between constructive criticism and the destructive world of trolling. On the other side of the fence, you have Daily Mail readers who would call out Meghan Markle for breathing. Within the blogosphere, we had the infamous case of Black Moose vs Elle Darbywhich saw hundreds of bloggers come to her defence. While I didn't entirely agree with her initial email, the subsequent hate she got was unwarranted.

From the faceless commentators on youtube and tumblr, to the targeted typing of anonymous tweeters, the words we put online are just as powerful as those offscreen. At its worst, social media trolls can have a devastating impact on mental health and, as our society becomes evermore digitised, I worry it will only get worse. Anonymous sites such as Ask.fm are a notorious platform for trolls and exploit vulnerability. As I said earlier, this goes far beyond my personal experience; trolls are an epidemic of the social media world and need to be called out. I realise my voice is only a drop in the ocean, but it's something.

To come back to the title of this post, my voice has value. Not everyone has to agree with it, but it has a right to be heard. For many people, my blog content may seem quite disparate, yet it all comes back to one thing my voice. Whether I'm writing about harry potter, crochet, cruelty-free living, mental health or online trolls, Bumble and Be is my place to talk, without censorship or shame.

Everyone has the right to a voice, which includes having an opinion and being free to share it. At the same time, everyone has a right to their values; a right to be respected; a right to BE.

Do you have any personal experience of online trolling? 

How do you think we can challenge it in the future?
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