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

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Simple Strawberry Crumble Recipe

   I am hopeless in the kitchen. I know I post a lot of recipes and kitchen stuff (a lot for someone who fails 80% of the time), but a lot of them took me a lot of goes, and I've actually done a lot more in the kitchen for the blog, but so much of it fails that it never makes it on here.
   But who the hell can go wrong with crumble? The only thing that can go wrong with crumble is if you burn it. Even my dad makes crumble. He makes a gooseberry one every summer with the gooseberries that grow in the garden, but this year the slugs got there first :( So, because they were £1 in Tesco, I bought a large punnet of strawberries and set to making a crumble.



You Will Need:
For the strawberries:
A punnet of strawberries
4 tsp Vanilla extract
50g/2oz caster sugar
For the topping:
110g/4oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g/3oz cold butter, diced
75g/3oz sugar
heatproof dish



   Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

   Hull your strawberries (cut the stem off and hollow the top out slightly in the process) and layer them into the bottom of your heatproof dish to cover the bottom. Sprinkle sugar and vanilla extract over the top and jiggle it about a bit to make sure it gets everywhere.


   Next, mix the flour and butter in a bowl by rubbing it between your fingers to make breadcrumbs. Once you're satisfied, add sugar and mix it about. Sprinkle this over the top of the strawberries and flatten it down so the top is nice and smooth. You can mix up more breadcrumbs if you're not satisfied with the coverage.


   Put the heatproof dish on a baking tray and put it in the oven for 20 minutes. It may need to go in a little longer, but you'll know it's done when the top is browning. Or until the edges are slightly burned. That's how I usually know it's done. Like I said, I'm a nightmare in the kitchen. But otherwise, you really can't go wrong here. The juices from the strawberries will also probably start to come through the top, but that's the sign of a good, healthy crumble. This will also make your kitchen smell like heaven.

   Take it out from the oven and let it cool. Serve warm or cold, with cream or custard. I had some cream left over from another project so we finished it off with the crumble. My dad praised it to the clouds, which is something because he never usually does that.



Thursday, 22 August 2013

Going the Extra Mile

   I love going the extra mile for my customers. Not always, granted, sometimes the extra mile would mean spending money I don't have or using the last of my resources on something no one asked for, but when I can do it, I love it. I recently got an order for a fox jar necklace - nothing unusual about that. No requests or anything, but it was what the customer wrote in the message to seller box that mattered. They said that they'd met a very special girl who was interning in Ireland over the summer, and they had spotted red foxes on a number of occasions. These foxes are uncommon for the most part, but in some locations they do make themselves at home in an urban environment. The foxes, because they'd seen them so many times, became a sort of theme on her trip, like an inside joke, except not a joke at all.
   Well, I decided that, since the story was so sweet, and he had bought the fox necklace for her, I would make something a little extra. I had blank cards lying around, have had them for a while, so I took one of them and grabbed my watercolours. I don't expect them to use the card, but as far as I'm concerned, it's the thought that counts. I enjoyed painting the card, and while I hope they don't just throw it out, I hope at the least it brings a smile to their faces.


   I like to go the extra mile because I like to make their shopping experience - both with me and Etsy - something more special than that of Amazon, for example. I always package things carefully, and I decorate my envelopes with washi tape. When a parcel arrives from me, you know it's not just an ethernet cable! I found out after shipping the item, however, that, like a surprising number of my customers, he had signed up specifically to buy from me - or atleast the same day he placed the order. I'm especially pleased I made the card now, because hopefully it'll give a glowing first impression of Etsy.

   Have you ever gone the extra mile? Or has someone done so for you?



Monday, 19 August 2013

Changes to Passionfruit Ads

   I got an email recently about changes to Passionfruit Ads. I'm a little unclear on some details, and despite reading the website and email over and over, and emailing Jason directly, to which he has yet to reply, as far as I can see it is no longer a free service. Please correct me if I'm wrong, because I don't want to stop using it.
   There's constant use of the phrase 'unlimited access' if you pay the monthly fee, but they've not made any mention of what 'limited access' is. 'Unlimited' implies 'limited' is also an option. There's lots of new features coming, too, so I assume that if you don't pay the fee, you have no access to these features.
   The monthly fee is only $9, but when you sell no ads, that's $9 a month you're losing.

   I implemented Passionfruit Ads because everyone else was using it, and it seemed convenient for both the blogger and the person buying the ad space. They don't have to get in contact with me to find out if there are any ad spots available, and I don't have to worry about adding the code for a new ad to my sidebar, and removing it when it expires. I've only ever had two people purchase an ad from me, and one of those was a mistake! But I've kept Passionfruit because I figure if someone wants to sponsor my blog at any point, they can very easily. But after using it for about a year (or however long it's actually been available) and having only had one advertiser buy a space, I would lose $9 a month, and I cannot guarantee ads to start selling just because I pay that fee. Chances are I'd lose a year's worth of $9 a month before I sell a single ad for even $5.
   If anyone has any idea whether or not 'limited' means I can still sell ads, but not use the new features that I can clearly do without, I'd appreciate being told so that I can stick with them. Otherwise, between now and the beginning of September I'm going to be changing it to paypal buttons. 'Limited' either means I can use the functions that have always been available in the same manner they have been, or it means that I can only buy ads.

   Answers would be appreciated! No, adding the simple codes for the ads to my sidebar myself isn't any real trouble, and if an ad ends up running a week or so longer than it's supposed to, I'm definitely not going to cry about it (and I doubt the advertiser would, either). It's just that once you get used to convenience, it's a bit irritating to get used to not using it, and I'd like to know before I get charged that $9 so I can opt out if need be.



Sunday, 18 August 2013

Real Women.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Real women have curves. Real women don't have curves. Real women have something in between a curve and a straight line. Real women have big breasts. Real women have small breasts. Real women have lost theirs.

We are all real women. I'm not sure how we ever thought defining a real women by what she looked like was a good idea."

- Tiffany, Dancing Branflakes                  



Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Quarter Of... Online Sweetshop

   You may have all noticed that a banner has been added to the bottom of my posts, featuring an image of looaads of sweets. Well, I thought I'd take the time to explain.
   My mum bought from A Quarter Of..., who call themselves a retro sweet shop, some years ago for Christmas - it was a big, magical order for us kiddies. She bought from them several times afterwards, and I did a few years later, but I soon forgot about it for years. Then, a few months ago after drooling over some pieces, I bought a gift for a friend on there. Shortly afterwards, I made a nice purchase for Seeg and I made up of Millions and marshmallows. Since then we've ordered a few times more, and their website is just as awesome as it was when I was younger.
   Any sweet you can think of from your childhood is stocked - and if it isn't, they'll get it in for you! It's awesome. They have all of my favourites - cinder toffee, flying saucers, foam shrimps - it's awesome. But not only that: their website is navigational in a really awesome way. You can search by type - crunchy, sour, chocolate, soft etc - you can search by flavour - pear, cola, strawberry, sarsaparilla (I don't know what that is, but after watching Fallout New Vegas for so long I can only image in regenerates health) - by sugar-free, gluten-free and gelatin-free, and, my favourite, by colour. They even stock gift vouchers and hampers, and ship worldwide!


   Well, after my mum and I being long-time customers, even if I did forget about it for a while, I'm now affiliated. This means that I'm helping them to gain further exposure so that they can expand their business. I've seen a lot of different online sweetshops, and none of them have the range that this one does, which is probably why my mum chose them in the first place. So if you're craving some sweets from your childhood, or a special gift for anyone, have a look there. Like I said before, A Quarter Of... stock gluten-, sugar- and gelatin-free sweets, and all quantities are - you'd never guess - a quarter of a kilogram, minimum (unless you buy a packet of sweets like a multi-pack of refreshers or something similar).



Friday, 9 August 2013

Unscheduled Hiatus

   Hello everyone! First let me apologise for the radio silence. I took a very sudden hiatus that I admit was a bit out of the blue. It started with WoW. I had sent a message to my favourite trading card shop asking if they needed any affiliates for the WoW trading card game, and they told me that have affiliates for other card games, but none for WoW, so they were interested. My stats weren't really good enough for them to affiliate with me on the spot, but it was good enough to catch their attention. They gave me a discount code for people to use on their online store so that they can monitor any sales I make them, but they also offered me a product for a giveaway. It was a substantial product, so I wanted to put the work in to bring my blog to life a little more. Well, I certainly did that. I ended up churning out about 20 posts (the majority of which aren't even up yet) and got a nice following, too. I get almost as many hits on my WoW blog a day as I do on this one, and this blog is 2 years old, while The Wyvern's Tail is just over two months old. So I'm really pleased with it! This has, however, resulted in me playing a lot more WoW, and it's become more dominant than other things at the moment. I've also entered into a sort of photography challenge competition, but instead of actual photography, it's screenshots, and it's a daily thing, so I'm paying a lot of attention to that, too.

   I've not taken a hiatus from my shop, though - all sales are taken care of at my usual pace - but this blog, twitter, facebook and all the rest has somewhat fallen quiet.
   I also had a 5-day weekend a week or so ago, which I spent watching Seeg play Fallout: New Vegas again, and we're in the midst of another 5-day weekend right now, spent in a similar fashion, but I've been working on some projects throughout. I won't say what the projects are, though, because I have a habit of jinxing things like you wouldn't believe. So I'm not saying, showing or hinting at anything until some of them are actually finished.

   Everything is fine with me, however, aside from being on the poor side, so I apologise to the one or two of you who were worrying about me. Worry no longer! The hiatus was much needed, to be honest, because I've felt like I'm burning out on a lot of things, and I now feel quite refreshed. I also had a surprise visit from my best friend who I hadn't seen since March, and we're made plans to go out a week from now. I know. I'm leaving the house. I'm actually fretting a lot about it. Once you get into the habit of not going out, the idea of doing so is scary. I'm not agoraphobic or anything, I'm just more adjusted to staying in. But it will be good.

   I have been working on a few tutorials, one of which went up last week for miniature pinatas, so I've not completely forgotten about my blog, and another tutorial is coming soon, with another in progress. This is perhaps the most useful thing I've made, because I've found myself using it literally every day, so, for once, it wasn't totally wasted time. Either way, I'll be returning slowly now. I think I might interview and feature a few Etsy shops soon, though, if just for the sake of content! If you're interested in being one of them, drop me a line and I'll have a look in your shop. If I don't like your stuff (as in it doesn't appeal to me - knitted goods, for example) then I won't feature you, but I beg you not to take it personally, because it won't be. If you're unsure whether or not I'll like your stuff, drop me a line anyways. You might be surprised!



Saturday, 3 August 2013

Miniature Pinata DIY Tutorial


   Tiny Pinatas! What more could you want?
   I was looking at Vivid Please's DIY tutorial for a Space Invader pinata, day dreaming but knowing I could never afford to fill it up adequately, and my waistline would just kill me afterwards if I could go as far as I want to, and I just started thinking about smaller scales. Smaller pinatas would mean you could fill it up with less, and smaller still would take even less. They wouldn't be as fun, of course, but eventually I decided that if they were teeny tiny, they would be just as good as the big ones, but their awesome fat factor would be replaced with a cute one.

   I've only ever had one pinata in my life, and it was at the birthday of a 7 year old. I was about 18 and I was so incredibly jealous. But they made stupid rules for it: you had to line up, and when it was your go, you'd only get one hit before having to line up again. And pinatas are tougher than I expected. Yes, of course I had a go. I think I hit it 3 times before it finally broke, after about 8 other kids had had about the same number of goes.
   These little cuties measure about 5cm, and are made up of thin cardboard, tape and tissue paper. I filled them with cake sprinkles. Back in the old days, Hundreds and Thousands and other such sprinkles weren't just cake decorations, they were general confectionary, so you can get a nice touch of the old days by filling them this way, too.
   They might seem a little too small to be fun, but then you'd be wrong. Kids would just love to get a tiny pinata filled with small sweets in a goody bag at the end of a party, and I'm pretty sure adults would, too, given how whimsical they are! One particularly good idea I had was to fill them with sprinkles and break them over cupcakes with soft icing as a little party activity. Most of the sprinkles would miss, but that's part of the fun!



You will need:
Cardboard
Scissors
Tape
Narrow double-sided tape
A range of coloured tissue paper
Sweets/sprinkles


1. First of all, draw your animal similar to that below and cut it out. Draw around it onto a piece of card board. It doesn't matter what colour the card is or anything like that, so it doesn't matter if you forget to flip the animal template for the second piece. Be sure to cut a hole out of the middle of both animal pieces. These do not have to line up, it's just to aid in the breaking of the pinata. Once you've done that, assuming that your animal measures no more than about 5-6cm and you're using a standard piece of A4 sized card, cut a strip from one side to the other. The thickness of the strip depends on how wide you want the pinata to be.

 

2. Once you've got your cardboard pieces cut out, take one of the animal pieces and the strip and fold it so that it follows the line of the legs. Once you've done that, tape the first animal piece to the strip, then the other. Continue to fold the strip around the animal and tape it in place.


3. Take your tissue paper and cut narrow strips. Fold them length ways almost in half. Make sure that one side is longer than the other, then start cutting notches into it to make it feathery and ruffled. Using double-sided tape, apply it to the cardboard animal. Make sure not to cover the holes with tape. The best way to do this is to begin applying the tissue paper from the front or back of the animal, so that you can wrap it across the hole, covering it, without having the contents sticking to the tape, or the tape making the hole unopenable.

4. Continue step three until you have almost covered the holes, then empty the sweets into the pinata. Once this is done, continue step three until the whole pinata is covered.


5. Feel free to draw a face. I gave them eyes. The pinata I destroyed had eyes.

6. You have several options now. You can add string to the top and hang them up; you can stand them on cakes or at cake decorating stations; you can add them to party bags or you can decoratethe party table with them. It's up to you! Alternatively, if you didn't fill it, you can use them as decorations, keep them, string them up and make a permanent mini pinata garland - the choice is yours!




During 2016's NaBloPoMo I also made a mini reindeer pinata and a Christmas pudding pinata!

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2016/11/miniature-christmas-pinatas-diy.html




Friday, 2 August 2013

GIVEAWAY: $30 Peaches and Pebbles Gift Card

   Yes, that's right, another one! It was my shop's second birthday on the 24th of July, and to celebrate I had a couple of bloggers host giveaways for a $30/£20 Peaches and Pebbles gift card! The first was held by Habitual Homebody on the 15th of July, and was over in three days. This giveaway is being held by Aquariann and lasts for 18 more days! Head on over to see what you have to do to be in with a chance of winning!