It's UK Mother's Day on March 30th, and international Mother's Day on May 11th.
Why not get her a custom made animal jar necklace of a pet or her favourite animal?
Read more about it, including deadlines and prices, here! Ships from the UK.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

How To Make Tea Cakes

   I love teacakes, I love the biscuit, the chocolate, and the soft fluffy marshmallow inside. Tunnock's is my favourite, easily. But, I thought I'd try my hand at doing them myself, and I think they came out really well - not as good as Tunnock's, but good enough!

   I used a silicon cake pops mould to make the tea cakes smooth and round. I got it on Ebay for about £3 and it works a treat. It's the same mould I used in my surprise cake to make the coloured cake balls that went inside it.

You will need:
 • A half-ball mould (alternatively you can work through this tutorial backwards and have a less rounded teacake) such as a cake pops tray
• Marshmallow mixture - you can either make your own using this recipe, or buy a tub of marshmallow fluff
• Disposable piping bag
• Biscuit mixture (I used my sugar cookie recipe)
• Chocolate- or Candy-melts (you can use chocolate bars but they won't harden very well)

1. First of all, put the chocolate in the microwave and follow the instructions on the packet. I used Wilton Candy Melts and Callebaut chocolate and microwaved them for 30 second bursts, getting them out and stirring them between each burst. Be careful here, because Candy Melts and white chocolate will appear to have not melted but will need a bit of a stir to reveal that it has. If there are a few small lumps, keep stirring, don't reheat it again or you'll burn the stuff and make it go clumpy.

2. Use a tea spoon and drop a bit of the melted chocolate or candy melts into a cavity. Use the back of the spoon to spread it around. It won't matter if the inside isn't very smooth, but you must try to make sure that the chocolate is pressed against the mould's surface. Candy Melts harden very well, and even a thin layer - a layer so thin you can almost see the mould through the chocolate (easily done since my mould is pink) - will harden completely without breaking. Do this with all the cavities until they're all full. I only used one half of my cake pop mould because the other half had a hole in the bottom to allow the cake to rise properly while in the oven. The chocolate wouldn't have seeped through it necessarily, but the tea cakes wouldn't have had a perfectly smooth top.

3. Leave the chocolate or candy melts to set. You can put them in the fridge, but if you've used an ordinary store-bought chocolate bar, this is a bad idea. The reason I say to use chocolate melts instead of chocolate bars is because a store-bought chocolate bar is a completed item, it's been through the tempering process (heating and cooling repeatedly within a certain amount of time) and if it's melted again, it's not likely to harden as well as it had in the factory. This also means that they'll be soft rather than completely hard, and when you try to push them out of the moulds, they'll get dented, assuming they come out at all. You will need a thick layer of chocolate if you've used a chocolate bar, and I suggest avoiding Galaxy chocolate, as delicious as it is, because even the bar itself melts quickly. Candy and chocolate melts are designed to be remelted and cooled, so their tempering process is incomplete.

4. Get your cookie dough and break it into small balls. Put them onto a baking tray and flatten them out with your fingers to make them round. Make sure they're smaller than the mould because they have to fit inside the chocolate rather than on top of it. They don't have to be perfect because they'll be completely covered in chocolate eventually. I used my sugar cookie recipe and baked the little biscuits for about 7 minutes and then let them cool compeltely.

5. Once the chocolate and candy melts have set, get your marshmallow mix. Keep the chocolates in the moulds to strengthen the edges throughout this step.
   I used a tub of Marshmallow Fluff because I would prefer to pay £4 and buy the right about rather than mix up way more than I need for about £1 - I'm trying to lose weight, so having far too much marshmallow lying about is a bad idea. And, I know, I know, if I'm trying to lose weight, why am I making tea cakes? Well if it makes you feel better I'm going to be giving them to friends and family rather than eating many of them myself.
   In my test-run of tea cakes, I used a teaspoon to scoop marshmallow mixture and spoon it into the chocolate cavities. This was difficult and it let to air pockets and broken edges - this is why I learned to keep the chocolates in the mould instead, and they will pop out afterwards just fine. Instead, this time I put the marshmallow fluff in a disposable piping bag and used that to put the marshmallow in the chocolate cavities. It worked remarkably well.

6. Take the little biscuits and press them into the cavities and marshmallow. Try to get the top of the biscuit lined up as well as you can to the top of the chocolate. If marshmallow fluff comes out around the sides, it doesn't matter.

7. Take some more of the chocolate or candy melts and melt them down. Spread them over the top of the biscuits and make sure the melts meet the edges of the already set chocolate so that the marshmallow and biscuit are sealed inside. Try to keep the chocolate level, but don't worry if you can't manage it.

   Once the new chocolate and candy melts have set, you can push them out of the moulds and flip them over. Ta da! You can experiment with them, too, by adding jam, caramel, even popping candy into the cavities before or after the marshmallow. If you didn't have a mould, work through backwards. Start with the biscuit, then add the marshmallow on top, then cover it in chocolate.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

30 Day Shred - Level 1

   Well, I completed Level 1 of the 30 Day Shred, and let me tell you right now: it was fucking hard. Pardon the language but I wanted to emphasis that. But let me also go on to say that day 1 was the worst, but I stuck with it, and by day 4 I was having a much easier time, and began looking forward to doing it from day 6 onwards. I did two extra days because I really feel like it's making a difference, and I want to get the most out of it.

   Why was it so hard? Because the instructor doesn't give you a chance to rest. It's only 20 minutes a day, but it's 20 minutes of non-stop work, and it is hard. You get a brief warm-up, and then 3 6-minute circuits of 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio, and 1 minute of abs, and it is tough. She does explain throughout the workout, however,
   I am used to using weights, so the positions and posture wasn't a problem for me, and I've strengthened my back enough already that the dumbbell rows were the easiest move of the DVD and didn't tire my back at all. But that experience was what made it so hard. I didn't go into it thinking it would be easy, I knew it would be hard, but I underestimated how much. I made a few mistakes on day 1, the first of which was choosing to use my 2.5kg (5.5lb) weights, which is what I've adjusted to over the last month, and I'm about ready to move up to 3kg. It destroyed me, and after the first circuit I ended up moving back to my 1.5kg (3.3lb) weights instead. The second mistake I made was trying to follow the tougher, more experienced demonstrations rather than easing myself into it. The moves done during Level 1 are moves that I am only partially familiar with, and that was also my third mistake, when it comes to combining them all together. Experienced or not, I should have started with the lighter weights and followed the less experienced demonstrations. I did pull a lot of muscles, but I still did it the next day, and the day after, and the day after. I haven't yet missed a day.

   As I just said, I pulled some muscles, and I think that that is only partly because of the weights I'd used. I am quiet sure it was also because I was doing movements like push-ups that I don't usually do, and it took some getting used to. I admit that on days 2, 3 and 4, I did the push-ups against the door with my feet about 2.5 feet away from it rather than on the floor because my front shoulder muscles had been really pulled, but by after doing them on the floor again on day 5, I found them surprisingly easy by day 9. But the thing is that, when you pull muscles in the 30 day shred, you still have to continue the next day. I felt like I couldn't do it, but I tried anyway, and by actually continuing and doing day 2, I worked my muscles and warmed them up and they didn't hurt as much any more. My body fully adjusted to the workout after 5 days, but it started getting easier after 3.


1. Don't think 'oh this'll be easy' or 'I want to get the most out of this' on day 1 and try to follow the tougher demonstrations. You'll only tire yourself out and hurt yourself. Start off with the easier demonstrations and work your way up.
2. Don't try to use heavy weights, even if you're used to them. Use smaller weights in the beginning to get used to the movements.
3. You will very likely pull your muscles after day 1 because there isn't enough stretching at the beginning or the end of the routine, so when you've finished, you'll definitely want to do more by yourself.
4. When you pull your muscles, don't skip a day. I'd usually say that you should rest, but this workout is designed to be done for 30 consecutive days, and if you let yourself take day 2 and day 3 off because of injuries from day 1, you're only going to find yourself pulling more muscles when you return to it. Work through it, it will get easier. You'll warm your muscles up, and despite what you might expect, you won't find it that hard to do day 2 once you've warmed up.
5. If someone tells you that this is easy, they're probably just trying to encourage you to try it. Definitely try it, but ignore what they say about it being easy. If you expect it to be easy when you begin, you'll probably be quite put off when you find out that it's the opposite.
6. Don't let yourself get put off of the moves. Push-ups are hard, there's no doubt about that, and I could never do them, but they get easy quite quickly, and you will be very surprised by how quickly your body strengthens and adapts to it all.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

General Silence, Insanely Motivated

   You may have noticed that I've been being quiet lately. In truth, similarly to my last post a week ago, I've been focusing on my writing. Completely. Not a moment goes by that my mind isn't bent on it. I've felt the biggest bout of motivation I think I've ever had, so I used it to my advantage. Rather than write write write write write until I burned out, I opted to go and do the one thing I dread: reading it through from page 1. I dread this because the first few chapters are usually terribly written, characters are inconsistent with anything I've recently written because they've developed since then, and it generally fills me with hopelessness. But I decided that if there was any time to do it, it was now.
   And was I in for a shock.
   For once, the first few chapters were actually good. Well-written, characters were consistent, and next to nothing needed tweaking. I even enjoyed reading them. In truth, I had to go back and read through chapters 6-10 to pick up some notes for where I am now. Sometimes things happen in a book that don't seem significant even to the writer at the time, but all of a sudden, a little ways down the road, they're surprisingly important. So I needed these notes, but thought to myself 'Would it really be so hard to read chapters 1-5 as well?' No, it wouldn't.
   As it stands I'm currently reading through chapter 13, though I had to read a handful of them again after I made necessary adjustments (at some points I was just frowning at the computer thinking 'what the hell are these people talking about?' - clearly they couldn't just be left alone if I didn't understand!), and I'm hoping to finish reading 13-16 tonight, and I'll be able to continue writing 17 with confidence and the notes I need.

   Yes, I'm still feeling pretty obsessive over it right now, it's more or less the only thing on my mind, and most other things have been completely pushed aside. The one thing that hasn't changed is my exercise - I've been shredding every day, I'll write about Level 1 soon - but I admit I have abandoned my evening workouts while I've been reading my work through because there aren't enough hours in the day. Literally. In the past I've thought to myself 'oh there aren't enough hours in the day!' usually around Christmas with a flood of Etsy orders, but never have I actually thought 'I wish there were more hours in the day' - if days were 3 times as long right now, I'd be happy.

   But this is why I've been silent. I promise I'll return soon with tutorials, posts, features, product reviews and so on! I will!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Finally Figured Out Why I've Been So Tense Lately

   How's that for a rubbish title?
   Lately I've been feeling extremely tense. When I go to bed, when I wake up, when I'm working on stuff, and just all the time, in general. And I've finally figured out why, and funnily enough it makes me happy: I've gotten too intensely involved with the characters in my book.
   This is, on some levels, a good thing. I can switch to their lives and personalities whenever I need to while I write, which a good writer needs to be able to do, but a good writer also needs to be able to think straight when things get sad, heartbreaking, or tense in order to maintain the narrative. Things in my book at the moment - which I have been working on an insane amount lately - are becoming quite heated. Things are popping up that, as far as the characters are concerned, shouldn't be happening, both on global (even beyond) and personal levels, and it's getting me so freaking excited. Hey, if I'm not enjoying my book, how can I expect anyone else to? But, unfortunately, getting that into it that means that the emotion is spilling over to my every day life, and that's not so good. I've been jumpy, I've been irritable, I've been having trouble sleeping.
   I love it when books get tense, when they get exciting, romantic, dangerous and upsetting, because I can't help but marvel afterwards at how words alone can do that to me, and so many others.
   I could never go as far as to say that my writing was amazing, because I know I have weak points, but I admit that I do believe my ability to write tense or sad situations is quite good, though I can't be sure until lots of people read my work.
  I'm confident that this book will be rejected by agents, because there are too few that handle fantasy, and those that do probably aren't taking on many more writers, and that does make me sad. But despite that confidence, I'm also confident that the work itself is publishable - the trouble is finding someone with the time and enthusiasm to take it on. I've spoken to a few authors lately who got their agents years ago, and the one thing they have all told me is that getting an agent these days is hard work, with a lot of rejection, and that all I can do is my best, send it in and hope. Which I will do, of course, I want this too much to be put off. But every now and then - surprisingly only for a few minutes - the idea that it could be years until I get anywhere, if ever, really makes me wonder why I'm bothering. Then I remember: because there's nothing I enjoy more.
   I'm not looking for fame, I'm just looking to make enough money to justify writing - so that I can support a family (either as sole bread-winner or partial) without having to worry about money, and subsequently be able to write more and more.

   I'm babbling. Basically, I'm glad I figured out why I've been tense, and I'm even happier about what exactly it is that's causing it. I'm seriously enjoying writing right now, and I've just bought a few new books to read which I'm super excited about too. I just bought the Tamuli by David Eddings (I read the Elenium a couple of years ago), and I've got the complete Belgariad, and there are two Warcraft books I have yet to get (Vol'jin and Warcrimes, the latter of which is released in May), but completing my own book comes first. It can take a few minutes to write a line sometimes, and it's a bit sad when it takes mere seconds to read it. The time seriously adds up.

Heart Hulaerobics DVD Review

Price: £5
Length: 1 hour 20 minutes
Workouts: All-over body
Suitable for: beginners and more experienced hoopers
   The Heart Hulaerobics DVD is actually a pretty good product. In the US, Hoopnotica is a pretty big thing, but those DVDs aren't available in the UK, which sucks big time. In fact, the only hooping DVD I could find was this one.
   But before I get into it, I feel I have to say this about fitness DVD reviews: take the negative reviews with a pinch of salt. Time and time again I see DVD reviews on Amazon that gave only 1 star because it was "hard" and they only used it "once". These are not at all valid reviews. Why? Because a fitness DVD is supposed to be hard. If you're able to do half of the DVD easily on your first try then you need a new DVD. If they don't challenge you, they won't be effective for long. And as for only using the DVD once and finding it hard? They're not designed for one use, they're designed to be learned and re-used often. People who leave reviews like this are generally people who were either looking for a simpler workout, or were simply looking for the most results for the least work, and that is not how weightloss works at all. I've bought a lot of DVDs with reviews like that, and I've found them to be perfectly good, and, more importantly, effective.

   Now, on with the review. Like a lot of fitness DVDs, this DVD has been split into sections, such as 'tum', 'bum', 'arms' etc. Now, I will point out that the first two sections aren't really part of the workout. There is a warm-up section, yes, but I've never really done it because I've always started hooping after about 20 minutes of dance, so I'm fully warmed up by that point. But even so, I did do it once and it is more than adequate. If you're worried about looking silly, remember that you're in your own home while doing it and no one can see you if you draw the curtains! Don't worry about what peeping Toms think.
   There is another section that I feel compelled to point out isn't part of the workout, and that's the 'how to hoop' section. It does feel a bit like an interview, because you have the instructor talking to a Heart FM radio host who has come to hoop with her for a bit, and they're just asking eachother how they are and silly things like that. But after a few minutes you will begin to see the value of this section. Instead of watching an instructor hoop expertly, you're watching her do that with a far less experienced person beside her making the same mistakes you are. The instructor corrects her, and that makes it a lot easier for you to correct your own mistake, because you can see that 1) you're not the only one doing it, and 2) you're getting genuine advice. Watch this section and you will learn to hoop properly, and you'll find the hoop is being far more co-operative than it was before.

   Then comes the real workouts. Now, I will admit that I've been using this DVD for two weeks and I haven't progressed past the 'tum' section, not truly, but I have looked at and tried the rest of the DVD once. The 'tum' section takes you through power hooping - hooping really quickly - and hooping at an angle, where you lean back and push your body up through your toes and get the hoop to spin at an upward angle instead of horizontally. This isn't easy, at all. Like I've said, I've not truly moved past this section of the DVD even after 2 weeks. That's how tough (and effective) the workout is. I've only just grasped how to hoop at an upwards angle.
   The second section is called 'back', and as it suggests, it's focusing more on the back muscles than the abdominal muscles. I have tried this section, and believe me when I say that I've not been so frustrated at a workout DVD that I've wanted to throw whatever was in my hand at the time (the hoop) through the window for about a year or two now. There was a move similar to the upward hoop from the previous section, but was downwards instead, and I found it frustratingly impossible. I soon found why, however: 1) my legs and feet were already exhausted from the tum section which I had run through twice already just before then, and 2) I was trying to keep up with the instructor. No, I've still not mastered the section at all (in fact I'm a little afraid of it), but the next morning, I left the DVD off, put on The Simpsons, and tried that back move again at my own speed and in my own time, and I kind of, sort of, maybe almost got the basics of it down. Perhaps. But I didn't want to throw my hoop out of the window that time. Simply put: there are sections to the DVD that are ridiculously hard, but practice them and you will get them. If you're struggling to keep up with the instructor, remember that it's not a dance routine, so you can turn it off and focus on teaching yourself the move.
   One thing I will add to that section, though, is that at the end of it, the radio host does come back and the two of them go over that move (called the booty bump) and you can see her make the same mistakes you will. The instructor, as before, identified the problem and offered solutions. I had given up at that point because I was exhausted when I saw it, but I appreciated what she was saying. Personally, I was struggling to get the hoop to go diagonal because my back muscles were exhausted. All I was doing was keeping it horizontal (and, don't ask me how I managed it, at several points I got it moving at an upwards angle again - clearly I was doing something wrong!).
   There is a section for the arms - beware where you try this: I have yet to do so myself because I'm convinced I'm going to bring the ceiling fan down - and a section for legs. There's a section for the bum, and one of the two moves is definitely difficult. The other kind of goes against what you were initially taught (keeping the hoop above your hips) because it has you bringing the hoop beneath (not on!!!) your hips and around your bum instead. You have to spin the hoop much faster to keep it there, and trust me when I say it's surprisingly taxing.

   Overall, while it is the only hooping DVD available in the UK, it is actually a good one. It doesn't teach you a million moves, but the moves it does teach you are surprisingly hard, but they are learnable. It's difficult enough to last for quite some time, is well-worth the little money it costs, and despite what some reviewers whine about (some people complained about the music - the DVD came out in 2007, of course the music is old! It's a workout DVD anyway, not a music DVD. Some people really annoy me), it's actually perfectly adequate. Don't get me wrong, I'd love a new one with some new moves so I can do even more, but for now, this has more than enough for me. So while you don't really have a choice if you're looking for a Region 2 hooping DVD, rest assured that this DVD is actually pretty good. I bought it second hand, but if it suddenly broke or went missing, I would buy it again, and at full price, because it's well worth more than the asking price, as I believe most of my fitness DVDs are (bare in mind, however, that the effectiveness of a workout depends on how often you do it, how long you spend on it at a time, and how you behave in regards to food and activity outside of exercising).

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