My debut fantasy novel, The Archguardians of Laceria, is now available in paperback, and in all ebookstores!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Recipe: Homemade Marshmallows!

It's something that a lot of people think require a factory and some magic dust to make, but it turns out, it's pretty simple. When I found out how to make them, though, I do admit that I was still put off by "gelatin". Not what it is, so much as where to get it. I assumed that this was the "magic dust" and that I wouldn't be able to find it anywhere. Until I tasked my father with looking for it when they went shopping. Lo and behold! 70g (6 sachets) for about 90p. So now, I will tell you how you can make them - but, a word to the wise, be kind to your waistline.




You will need:
Electric whisk (you can try with a hand whisk but it'll take a veeery long time and your arm will fall off first)
A mixing bowl
A saucepan (and a stove, obviously)
A cake tin will suffice (I use 9 inch)
Measuring jug
Scales
Sieve

Ingredients:
50ml water (separated into 2x 25ml)
1/2 sachet of gelatin
2 cups/100g sugar
45ml corn syrup (karo light, or golden syrup)
Pinch of salt
Vanilla flavouring 

I must stress to those of you in the UK, every recipe I've seen has called for "Karo light corn syrup" - obviously, this isn't sold over here, but it turns out it's the same as golden syrup, and it works fine. The only difference is that golden syrup is, well, golden, and Karo light is clear. Even this won't make a difference. But I would advise trying to get Lyon's Golden Syrup, and get it in a little squeezy bottle. It saves a lot of mess.


First thing is first: grab your sieve and your cake tin, and line it with icing sugar. Don't be too stingey with it. This mixture will be sticky, and if there's any area of the tin that's not coated, you may have trouble removing it later. Once you've done that, you can begin:

1. Measure out 25ml of water and pour it in a mixing bowl, then open a sachet of gelatin. You don't have to be too accurate with this. As long as one sachet is equivilent to between 10 to 15g, you should be fine to just guess about half of it. Sprinkle this over the surface of the water until you've used it all then put it to one side. Don't mix it!

2. (This step should take about 10 to 15 minutes) Now that that's been pushed to one side, take your saucepan and put it onto a medium/low heat. Empty the second 25ml of water into the pan, along with the 45ml of corn syrup, a pinch of salt, 100g sugar, and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, leave it to boil on an increased heat without stirring for between 5 to 8 minutes. I must stress at this point, though, don't walk away from it. I did this and when I came back it had all burnt. I wasn't gone longer than a few minutes! It bubbled up and went dark brown, and it absolutely stank the whole kitchen out. I may have had the heat up too high as well, I'm not sure. Learn from my mistake.

3. Once step 2 is complete, the gelatin should have absorbed all the water. No, it will not wobble like jelly does, believe me, and, when I've done it, the granules are all still very visible. The only difference is that the water has been absorbed. So don't panic at this step like I did the first time and add more water. Trust me, it is fine. Get your electric whisk and slowly add the hot syrupy mixture into the gelatin in a thin stream, mixing on its lowest setting while doing so. Once the mixture is combined, increase the speed gradually. You may notice, if you've used golden syrup, that the mixture is not white, but rathera pale syrupy colour. Don't panic. It surprised me when I first tried it, but after it's been mixed completely, it will be almost white.
Continue mixing and increasing the speed until it's at its heighest setting. You can stop once the mixture has become fluffy and stiff (it looks sort of like when you melt a marshmallow). Now, go ahead and stick your finger in. It shouldn't be very hot. Personally, I quite like the taste as it is, but my boyfriend did not. So now, if you would like, you can add a few drops of vanilla flavouring (or any flavouring you've chosen instead) and mix for another 30 seconds.

4. Now, grab the dusted pan you did earlier and spoon your mixture in. You might be able to pour it, but if it pours easily, you've added too much water. You should be better off spooning it in. Try to keep the top as level as you can. I make a lot of cakes, so I'm used to slopping batter in messily and it coming out nice and neat, having risen, but this does not happen. Any lumps and bumps will remain. It may slightly flatten itself but not by much. When you spoon it out there will be a lot of these lumps and bumps, but a clever way to flatten them without making more is to grab a spatula and run it under the tap. Don't dry it, but if it's too wet you can just flick it once. Use this to spread the top out and the mixture won't stick to it, which will eliminate most of the creases.

5. Leave the tin to one side and you're done. I sometimes sprinkle some icing sugar on top of it, but I'm not happy with the finish. It's up to you. Some people say it sets in 4 hours, others say 24. I leave it overnight and it's generally fine. However, I will admit, that after 4 hours, it doesn't seem to have set any more then than it did the next morning, but I personally won't risk taking it out before hand.

Once it's set, grab a knife and run it between the marshmallow and the edge of the tin to loosen it. You might want to stick it in the bag of icing sugar first to cover the blade and keep the mallow from sticking to it. Once you have loosened the edge, use the knife to lift it from the base. You'll probably want to do this at several points around the tin. If you dusted it well, it shouldn't be too difficult. You might want to dust your work area with sicing sugar too, because now you'll either be able to lift the marshmallow out with the knife, or turn the tin upside down and tip it out. This looks awesome.

A gert big slab of marshmallow!

The best way I've found to cut the slab into more civilised pieces (you could just eat it as is, but people might think you're strange. Just make sure you drawn your curtains!) is to use a pizza slicer, one of those rolling blades. Coat that in icing sugar and slice it into strips, the thickness is up to you. The thicker they are, the less mallows you'll get, though the calories will remain the same. Once you've got your strips, cut them across the other way. You might want to dip them in icing sugar because the new edges will be very sticky.

There are variations to this recipe. For example, you can simply increase or decrease the quantity, or you could use different food flavoruings - LorAnn Oils have lots of unusual flavours! - or colours. Another alternative that I did try was using strawberry juice instead of water. I got lots of fresh strawberries, chucked them in a bowl and mashed them up with a potato masher. Sieved the juice into another bowl, then put the mushed strawberries back and mush them some more. Repeat this and add more strawberries if you need to until you have 50ml of strawberry juice. I only actually needed to use half to two thirds of a standard box of strawberries to achieve this. You can substitute the strawberries with the fruit of your desire, and simply use the juice instead of water. If, however, you can't quite make enough juice, add water to it to make the difference, but make sure you alwayshave 2x 25ml of fluid. No more, no less (unless it was too sticky the first time around). This is great, because it gives it a nice natural pastel pink colour, and natural flavour and smell. They're gorgeous. And, instead of using icing sugar, use crushed freeze dried strawberries (or whichever fruit). It'll give it more colour, and keep it from being sticky.


If you try this recipe, do let me know how it goes!



Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Don't Deprive Yourself This Halloween

   So, it's the holidays. There are adverts on the TV trying to coax you into a delicious and enormous roasted dinner, or perhaps a sumptuous chocolate cake that never looks quite the same as it does on the advert when you buy it, and of course, there are hundreds of different sweets in the shops that only come out this time of the year. The same applies to Easter and Christmas, though, in England, I'd say moreso to the latter two. My weakness is Cadbury Mini Eggs. I chow those bad boys down like there's no tomorrow. And then I pay the price.
   Most of these holidays play havoc with the scales. It's like we see the holidays as an excuse to eat. Particularly at Christmas. The wise man, Michael McIntyre, raised a fair point. In the spring and summer the magazines are plastered with "great tips to that bikini body". "Why take the lift when you can take the stairs?" and as Mr McIntyre pointed out, it's good advice. The magazines don't suggest "Chub up for Crimbo! Why take the stairs when you can lie in a lift, eating choccie?! Yaay!"
   I'd say that perhaps we just naturally put weight on over the winter, but at the same time, why would we? We're not in the wild any more. We lost the fur, didn't we? No, we see these times as an opportunity to eat, and let's admit it, it's pretty darn fun right? Just avoid the scales until the shops start selling those gorgeous little bikinis.
   Some extreme people might say not to eat any chocolate over these times. After all, food doesn't love you back, and that is true. But a wiser woman has said not to deprive ourselves from the holidays. And why should we? You can eat anything if you eat it in moderation. Except fast food. There is no such thing as healthy fast food. But hey it's your body.

   I saw a recent post by the wonderful Taralynn McNitt who said you shouldn't deprive yourself in the holidays. Even if you're dieting, and genuinely trying hard to lose weight. It is never a good idea to go cold turkey and cut out everything you love. What's the point? Yes, if you cut out all chocolate, you might get somewhere a little quicker, but the second you do allow yourself what you might consider a treat after a while having gone without, you will binge. It'll start as one bite, then a whole bar, then another, and then the next thing you know you're surrounded by chocolate bar wrappers who are all laughing at you. You think. Maybe the sugar went to your head, who knows? The point is, you can eat healthily without cutting out the good stuff.

   I do have one "but". I don't mean to pick her wisdom apart, because it might work for her and for other people, but she said, and while I agree with this: "It’s not fun to deprive yourself during the Holidays! But if you give yourself a set of rules you don’t have to!", I do not agree with the last point on her list: "I’m going to allow myself two pieces everyday!; Keeping the candy out of site!; Only buying my least favorite kind!"
   What is the point if you're going to buy sweets and chocolate to eat over the holidays if you don't even like it as much as others? I know, I know, the nicest things in the world are generally the fattiest, but, if you're going to treat yourself, do it properly. If you have a list of your favourite sugary treats and decide to buy the one at the bottom of the list - yes you still like it, but not as much as anything in the middle, or anywhere near the top - why even bother? Yes, you will be less inclined to try to sneak some extra pieces, but perhaps you should just try to trust yourself, or have your significant other hide them away or lock them in a safe. If you buy the crappiest of your favourite chocolates, you are just eating for the sake of eating. You won't enjoy it as much as something you could have had, and you won't be satisfied.

   Bottom line: enjoy Halloween, and the other holidays, but enjoy it in moderation. Set some rules, as Miss McNitt suggests, but don't eat for the sake of eating. If you're going to treat yourself to two pieces of chocolate over the holidays, make sure it's something you like. Then, when the holiday passes and you go back to your normal dieting routine, you won't feel like you missed out.

   Peace out, and if you are happy with the way you are, then great, eat some extra chocolate and sweets for the rest of us! Also, if you love how you are regardless of weight, good on you, you have my respect!


Etsy Favourites Feature

It's Tuesday! And since I've only just started with my blogging schedule and I'm working to try to better this blog, I'm going to post this feature as well as an interview. It's also because the wonderful Etsians who are included in this little feature got back to my requests to include them so quickly ♥ Their shops are excellent, and their products unique and beautiful. Do take a deeper look ♥




Friday, 21 October 2011

Free Printable Bookplates

So I'm getting started with my blogging schedule. I have an interview lined up with ArtbyLyubka which will be posted on Tuesday, but as today is Friday, and I decided to post a recipe, tutorial or printable on this day each week, I'm posting my first printable!

I love reading, but more importantly, I love books, my books. I don't often lend them out (I'm never really asked), and when I do, I regret it slightly later, that either I won't get them back, or they'll be bent! *gasp* I know, it's the worst thing in the world that can happen right? Anyway, I've made some nice little bookplates for you all to print out and stick on the inside cover of your books!

Click, Right Click + Save Image


Please note, they might not print out on one sheet. For best results, either print the ones you want individually, or open the whole thing in MS Paint, rotate it 90 degrees, stretch the right hand side a little and move over the top (or once it's rotated, right) row of bookplates until they safely print onto 2 pages in print preview.


Monday, 3 October 2011

New Layout

I think I'm happy with it now :P I'm going to add pages for Interviews and Guest Bloggers when they start to come into action for easy navigation if you want to read a particular one again.

What do you all think? I realised that the blogs that I thought were the most beautiful were the most minimal when it came to colour, but I was hesitant to do it since my personal blog on tumblr (which is more just a place I picture browse) was also quite white. But I'm trying this out anyway ^^ who knows, I might revert back in 3 days' time xD


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Feature by isavirtue ♥

My envelope rings and necklaces have just been featured on a beautiful little blog called isavirtue <3 The blog focuses on paper art, and the owner has a good old fashioned passion for hand written letters and mail art <3 she even has a lush little shop where she sells her own paper goods of an amazing standard <3 I am really considering buying one of her gorgeous little journals to keep track of my Etsy sales in. It's just what I've been looking for!

I have had a love for hand-written mail myself for a few years. I remember the first time I ever got any mail that wasn't a birthday card. It was just a leaflet I sent away for from the RSPCA, but I remember how excited I was to receive an envelope with my name on it. I had such a craving for hand-written mail that I started sending letters out to shops I loved when I was about 12, hoping I'd get some letters back. Well I might say that it payed off in one way ;P I wrote a letter to Millie's Cookies telling them how much I loved their treats, and I got a letter back saying they appreciate my thoughts, and I was given a voucher for a free cookie tin with 20 cookies in it (that was worth £20!) :D I was chuffed. The tin is gorgeous too xD

But, since I've gotten used to email, I don't send or receive anything any more other than junk mail. The one person I had that I could have sent hand written letters to was my boyfriend, and since he's moved from the Netherlands to the UK now, it would seem absurd to send him a letter only to have it arrive back at my own door a week later xD

In light of this, I'm considering posting a weekly interview with an Etsy artist here on this blog. I'll let you know more when I have more of an idea of what to do about it ^^


Under Reconstruction

You may have noticed the delightful summer lemonade background and colourscheme I'm working up here, but you'll also have noticed that the header has yet to be updated. I feel I should mention that it's currently under re-construction in case anyone wobbles over here and is repelled by the shabby work so far. Be patient!

I also can't seem to fathom anything for my background except stripes. I'm thinking spots but it might be just too much. Headers are a whole different story though :( I need new brushes :P I just got lots of new fonts from this gorgeous website so I'm gradually getting somewhere ^^

Also, yesterday was the hottest 1st of October on record. My sister also told me that it's apparently going to snow at the end of the month. If that's true, we might be in a bit of trouble ;P Anyone else suffering from the heat? I can't stand it! I had to go out to the local shop today (a mere 3 minute walk) and almost collapsed from heat when I reached there. I had to go though. My dad needs his 50th birthday cake :D