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

Monday, 30 March 2015

Raspberry & White Chocolate Rose Cups

   I've recently grown to love the white chocolate-raspberry combination. I love it in biscuits, in snack bars, in flapjacks, and on its own. It's delicious and it's pretty. And, with spring around the corner I've been feeling particularly floral lately, so I couldn't resist making my own white chocolate and raspberry cups with a spring twist!


   I actually made the white chocolate from scratch, but you can easily bypass that part of the recipe and melt store-bought white chocolate. Just be careful not to burn it. The roses are an added extra that make them especially pretty, and roses are edible flowers. I used roses that had been dried and cleaned especially for eating, and you can get them from most herbal shops. I was lucky to be provided some by the lovely Miss Vicky Viola.
   These chocolates freeze really well, so you can make them in advance for an event, or you can pull a few out every now and then when you fancy a sweet snack or when you're having guests over.



You will need:
For the Chocolate:
100g cacao butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsb dry milk powder
2 tbsp powdered sugar (optional)
2 tbsp raw cashew butter (optional)
Alternatively: just white chocolate
Raspberries
Dried roses/petals


Method:
1. Melt the cacao butter in a double boiler or in the microwave.
   Alternatively, just melt the white chocolate, but don't let it burn.

2. Turn off the heat and mix the vanilla extract, milk powder, sugar and cashew butter into the melted cacao butter. The mixture may be quite dark - it will lighten once set.

3. Pour a small amount of the chocolate mixture into the bottom of a chocolate mould. I used a silicon cake pops mould which I picked up for £4 on Ebay. Transfer them into the freezer for 15 minutes.

4. Cut some raspberries in half while you wait, then, once the mixture has frozen, place a raspberry half on each chocolate.


5. Pour more chocolate mixture over the raspberry to cover it, then take a rose or petal and place it on top.

6. Set back in the freezer for 30 minutes until set.



April: Jillian Michaels' Kettlebells + Buti Yoga


Fun Rating: ★★★★☆    Difficulty Rating: ★★★★☆     Results Rating: ★★★☆☆


   Last month was insane. I've not worked so hard in a really long time, and I have to admit that I loved it. I know, there's something wrong with me. But the satisfaction of completing both of those workouts every day was immense, and I got amazing results - dropping from a size 10 to a size 8!
   This month I'm keeping to using two workouts instead of one, and I'm using them both every day like I did last month. I'm really excited about them both: Jillian Michaels' Shred It With Weights and Buti Yoga Transformation.


   Some of you probably already know that my kettlebells are my favourite piece of kit, they're amazing full-body weights that incorporate both strength and cardio into their use. I had wondered for a while why Jillian Michaels hadn't done anything with them and I figured in the end that it was because people were more likely to have dumbbells at home than kettlebells. I'd seen Shred It With Weights in passing a few times but never took the time to really look at it. I had just assumed it was a weight-specific DVD rather than a mix of strength, body weight and cardio like her usual stuff, so I disregarded it. I wish I hadn't. I took a random moment to look at the cover of the DVD a few weeks ago because I wondered why her arm was in front of her rather than at her side, and then I noticed the tell-tale handle of a kettlebell in her hand in the bottom corner. I bought it immediately.
   I'm a little unsure about the DVD in truth because I'm already quite experienced with kettlebells, having used a number of routines in the past, but Jillian Michaels is an amazing trainer and she's bound to have put together something out of the ordinary with them. That's not to say I think I'm a pro, but as it's her only kettlebell DVD - at least so far - I don't think it's going to be aimed at people with lots of experience with them. I'm hoping that's not the case, but we'll have to see.
   The DVD is made up of two 30-minute routines which progress in difficulty, so, as always, I will split the month between them. However, I will be working for 5 weeks this month since May starts on a Friday, so I'll be using Level 1 for 2 weeks and Level 2 for 3 weeks. If the DVD isn't quite as difficult as I hope, I'll be spending more time on the harder of the two workouts.

   Buti Yoga is something else I'm excited about. Really excited about. It's yoga, but it has exactly the kind of unusual twist I want from a unique workout: tribal dancing. I bet you didn't see that coming. Buti Yoga is a really great mixture of body-weight training and cardio, and is immensely enjoyable. I actually found Buti Yoga through Women's Fitness Magazine, who put together a small printed routine inspired by the Shakti Sweat DVD and I loved the look of, and I soon came upon the website and had a closer look. I do have a rough idea of what I'm letting myself in for beyond that simple article; you may remember that I tried a new workout for two days in February, and it was Buti Yoga. From those two days I discovered that it was a really difficult form of exercise, but also very enjoyable at the same time.
   Buti Yoga is expensive. There are two series available - Transformation and Shakti Sweat, the former of which is the easier one - and there's another on the way, and they start from $50 (£37). Ouch. For that price you get three workouts in increasing durations (25 - 75 minutes) and additional exercise sequences, but for the most part you really are paying for its originality. But that's not to say it isn't worth it, because it truly is unique.
   However, while I'm talking about price, I will mention right now that the workout I tried in February wasn't the DVD I'm using this month, it was a free version of Buti Yoga. In February I used a 50 minute trial routine which anyone can access for free online when they sign up to the newsletter (which from what I've seen so far is issued only about once or twice a month), which is a system I actually really like. It allows you to have a really good go at the yoga style however many times you want and know exactly what to expect without spending lots of money only to be either disappointed or find that you physically can't do it. If, of course, you like it, you'll see the value of buying one of the DVDs. And that's exactly what I did.
   The DVDs aren't region-bound which means anyone can use them in any country, but shipping them from the US to the UK is expensive. Fortunately, you can also buy them as digital files as well, which is what I did. The price stays the same despite the lack of packaging, but you can avoid shipping costs and potential customs fees, get the workouts immediately and, as they're mp4 files, you can play them on most programs and devices. I'll be using the Xbox 360 (Windows Media Plaayer) so I can keep facing my TV rather than have to use the computer on the other side of the room, meaning I get a bigger screen and I don't get thrown out of whack by facing the wrong way (happened both times I used the free workout on the computer).

   I'm using the Transformation Series. Initially I wanted Shakti Sweat since it was the first one I saw, but it was mentioned many times on the website and in Women's Fitness magazine that that series in particular was aimed at people with a strong yoga practise, which I decided I probably didn't have, and after having tried the easier trial routine I was only further convinced that that was the face. But Transformation is still going to be hard, which is good, because I want it to be a challenge so that I can grow within it.
   The series has 3 full workout routines: Feel (25 minutes), Think (45 minutes) and Look (60 minutes). I'll be starting with the 25 minute routine, and I am fully prepared to use only that one for the full month because I already know how hard it's going to be. However, if I find myself getting the hang of it quite quickly, I will move on to the next, but I'm not expecting to.

   There are no additional goodies this month. No new shakes, no new breakfasts or snacks, and no new kit besides a replacement yoga mat since my old one is torn up from other exercises with trainers on (I hate donkey kicks). But I feel quite happy about it. My confidence in kettlebells joined with my excitement for Buti is more than enough to spur me on.



Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Powergloves 2.0 by Powerhoop Review

   In 2013 I wrote a review about Powergloves - weighted gloves by Powerhoop with the most feminine look on the market. I loved them and really used them to death as they really gave my workouts a boost. I'd bought them rather than any other brand simply because pretty much all of the others out there looked really bulky and uncomfortable, like they were designed for men, and that they'd fall off, irritate me or just took themselves too seriously. No matter how hard I tried, however, I couldn't find any designed specifically for women, and while Powergloves are unisex, they at least look much less serious and far more managable, even if their weights are no different to any others.
   But, as I said, I used them to death, and they needed replacing in time which I did with no hesitation.
   As recently as a month ago, however, Powerhoop released a new model which got me quite excited (you all know what I'm like). They fortunately kept their comfortable and simple shape, but, unlike the old models which were colour-coded depending on their weight, these only come in black. "That's it? Has the weight not changed?" You may well ask, but the best part of this model - other than being black, which, lets face it, is always a wardrobe staple whether it be skirt, shirt or weighted glove - come only in 'one size'. Simply put: their weights are interchangable. Rather than buying three pairs in different weights, you buy one pair and change the weight yourself when you're ready to!


   The gloves contain sand bags - grey 250g and black 350g - that can be used individually or together in the same glove to weigh a total of 600g, meaning you can increase the weight gradually. The sand bags slot into the back of the glove from the inside, and while the insert slot may look unfinished, there are several practical benefits: no unnecessary materials have been used to fasten it shut as, once the glove has been fastened to your hand, the sand bags simply will not fall out because your hand is entirely blocking the way. Believe me, I've put these gloves under vigorous testing over the past month! It also avoids adding anything even as simple as Velcro that may only add irritation while in use, or some other kind of discomfort.

   These gloves can be used to give your cardio workouts a boost, or add a little bit more weight to resistance routines without having to buy a new set of dumbbells just for an extra 0.5kg (1lb). They're also amazing for kickboxing in particular as you can keep your hands in a fist and not have to worry about potentially dropping (or, heh, throwing) any dumbbells if your fist should loosen a little, and that adds extra resistance in particular to your hooks and uppercuts. You can also use them alongside a Powerhoop (each set of Powergloves have a 10% discount on any Powerhoop) should you have one and get a little bit of added resistance to your hooping routine - a workout I suggest you try if you haven't already, as it's certainly something unique.


   There is a downside to the gloves, however, and that's that the secondary weight is a little odd. The old gloves started at 250g, then went up to 500g and then to 1kg. To go up to 350g as these gloves do, however, increasing by just 100g is a little strange and I'd have expected to have been given a 250g and 500g sandbag. However, while Powergloves may not advise it as the gloves can surely only take a certain capacity, you could always make your own 500g sand bag to insert inside if it bothered you enough.


   That point aside, however, I can say the pros massively outweigh that single con, and I can highly recommend these gloves. As I've said several times already, they're very comfortable, and that counts for a lot when you're exercising. They look better than most gloves, too, and, above all else, they're affordable. I massively suggest buying them if you haven't already. I've tested them at all weights, but I'm using them at their max at the moment as I was using the blue 500g version of the old model before I replaced them with these.
   You can find them on the Powerhoop website and buy the gloves there or head over to Amazon, both stocked for just under £20, and, as I've already suggested, they can be used in most workouts.



Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Why Am I, Personally, So Passionate About Fitness?

   I received a tweet a few days ago asking me about why I'm so passionate about fitness, and it really made me think. While a passion for fitness was something that grew gradually for me, it sort of exploded rather abruptly on the blog, and a sudden transition came over it which I've only just addressed.
   But beyond that, I also thought more closely about just why I am so passionate about fitness.


Why am I so passionate about it?
   There are many driving factors.
   Initially, it was just because I wanted to get in shape. I'd wanted to lose weight for years but never had the guts or motivation to do it. Funnily enough, it was only when I started to love my body with Seeg's help that I actually found myself motivated to do something about it. I know how backwards that sounds. "I love myself, therefore I will change myself." But it was actually more a case of not shying away from the mirror anymore. I learned to look at myself and recognise myself without freaking out and focusing only on what I didn't like. Finally discovering what I truly looked like made me realise what needed to be changed, and that I could.
   I started by using the Wii Fit from Nintendo. Seeg bought it for me and I didn't want his money to go to waste because it was the first birthday gift he ever bought me, so I used it all the time. Using a games console also appealed to me a lot, too, so that did help, but once I felt I'd outgrown it, I moved on. I made sure to pick out things I thought would be fun, so I just used dance DVDs from 10 Minute Solutions for a few months and grew to really enjoy them. I might still freestyle like Mr Bean, but I can bust out some real moves when I want to. But eventually I stopped losing as much weight and wanted to try something new. I saw hula hooping in the back of a Women's Fitness magazine and thought it looked like fun. It was little different from dancing, really, and I bought into the idea that it could target your waist. While it targeted the muscles around my waist, it didn't cause me to lose any fat from it, but the activity was enough for me to be brave enough to try other things. The next month I tried the 30 Day Shred, which was quite a leap, and after completing it and surprising myself, I never shied away from the tougher stuff - though I continued searching for the fun stuff all the same.
   And I saw results. Once you see results it can become an addiction because you realise you can change your body all by yourself, you don't need a gym or a magic pill, it can simply be done at home, and that's an empowering realisation, and one that also keeps you going.
   I also saw progress. I don't mean weight loss this time, I mean skill. You gradually find that the weights you struggled with initially are too light and you need to buy or use a heavier pair. You find you can go deeper into yoga poses than you used to, that your balance has improved and you feel brave enough to not only try new moves but execute them better than expected on your first go. You find yourself jumping higher, dancing better, twisting further and running longer. And that's amazing, because your body can do so much, you just need to push it to see how much.
   Then there's the other stuff. My confidence grew - hell, I know what confidence feels like now! It's never something I've had. I can step out of the shower and not feel like I have to hide behind a towel right away. I can walk taller and lift my chin because I know I'm more powerful than others might think by looking at me, and I absolutely love it. I can handle myself, and I know what I'm capable of, which is never something I've been aware of.
   I'm healthier, and I don't mean munching on veggies rather than chocolate. I've not given up chocolate or cakes or biscuits or anything like that, and I don't eat any more veggies than I used to. I mean that I simply don't get ill as often. Headaches are few and far between even after a tough workout. Colds are phantoms - I'll sneeze twice and that will be it, while everyone else around me is coughing and sneezing for days. My skin has cleared up. I was never necessarily prone to spots, but my skin glows more now and feels smoother and clearer.
   I eat healthily without thinking about it. Yes, I did just say I never gave up chocolate, cakes or biscuits, and that remains 100% true, but I don't eat anywhere near as much of it anymore because I'm simply not in the mood for it. It's not me saying "no I'd better not" it's just "meh, what else is there?" I also started buying Nakd bars, Eat Natural bars, drinking water and green tea and ordering more chicken, fish and salads in restaurants instead of lots of red meats, all without even thinking about it. I never set out to get healthy, just to lose weight, but with all the exercise and becoming aware of my body, I became aware of other things on other levels and just adopted new and better habits all without trying. It happened naturally.
   I'm stronger and more flexible. I don't just mean tying myself into knots, it's simpler than that. I've not grown in height - that can't be changed - but I can reach things on higher shelves because the muscles in my shoulders and waist are longer and stronger than they used to be, offering greater flexibility and greater reach, which I didn't expect. I can get higher and lower than I used to be able to.
   I have more energy even right after a 75 minute workout, which is astounding. Yes, my body aches, but there's little better than the satisfying post-workout exhaustion, and yet I still feel like I could do more. I don't because doing too much would negate the workout and pretty much kill me, but I'm not left suffering through the rest of the day or the next because of it. My body handles energy much more efficiently, it knows what I need and it knows when I need it. My metabolism has also increased in order to feed the energy demand for both the workout and the general increase of lean muscle in my body.
   My posture has improved. I can sit taller more naturally, I walk more confidently and I have a more powerful presence, which is amazing for someone who always used to hide in the corner of the room, back of the class or in a big hoody. There's also random things. I may not have been able to steer that horse, but my posture was almost perfect throughout, despite it being my first lesson.
   There is also, of course, the shape of my body. My bum is bigger, my boobs are smaller, my arms and legs are slimmer and my waist is drawn in. I am in much better proportion than I used to be - top heavy with nothing at the back. Now I'm almost balanced, and I love it. I never knew that a bum could be grown, but as your bum is just muscle it's possible for anyone to tone it up, improve its shape and its size. Women don't gain muscle anywhere near as quickly or easily as men so it's a long, tough job, but it can be done, and I've seen results from my hard work.
   Above all else, I did it all myself. No one twisted me into yoga poses, no one lifted the weights for me, no one learned the dance moves for me. I did it, and the results I've gotten are through my own hard work. Yes, I certainly owe thanks to the creators and instructors of the DVDs and websites I've sourced my workouts from, but I still completed them by myself. I did every movement, I improved my own strength, I completed the sets and circuits and I progressed past them.


What about blogging? Why do I go on about it so much?
   There are a lot of fitness blogs out there, that is true. Some of them are more exercise-based, others are more food-based and some are a perfect balance of the two, and they will all give you their own reasons for being so passionate about it as to be able to write and frequently update a whole blog and website about it.
   For me, it's all quite personal. I review DVDs and workouts for the benefit of others who might want to try it, answering questions that I had before beginning but went unanswered until I tried it for myself. But as for the rest of it - choosing the specific workouts and doing them - it's all for me. Actually blogging about them is just a way of publicly committing to them for the month, and while I'm not deluded enough to believe for even a moment that anyone else cares anywhere near as much as I do about them, having publicly admitted to them makes it much harder to quit, and that pushes me on. Anything that helps, right?
   I try to pick out unique workouts because I know I'll be blogging about them and I feel it makes good content, but the driving reason and why I turn down some workouts and leap eagerly onto others is simply that I don't like the generic stuff - I hate running, I can't cycle and I can't swim. Picking out unique and exciting things helps to keep things fresh and keep myself excited, and changing them every month keeps the weightloss steady and consistent, avoiding plateaus. I also don't believe you need to go to a gym to get ripped or buy expensive home equipment, and my blog is part of my way of proving myself right.
   Yes, I will admit that weights are kind of generic for fitness, but I also admit that I do rather enjoy it anyway. It's empowering and I like to see the progression of using gradually heavier weights. They're safe for women to use, too. Many women don't touch weights because they think they'll get bulky, but it's a simple biological fact that women's bodies are different from men's and don't respond to weight and resistance training in the same way. Men get bulky, women get lean and more shapely. For women to bulk out they have to pretty much live in the weight room. Building up lean (developed and useful) muscle increases the energy demand on the body for even simple things like vaccuuming and walking, and subsequently increases the demand in your exercise, too. It helps to keep fat off now and in the future.

   So these are the reasons I'm so passionate about fitness, and I promise you that if you're just beginning and you stick with it, you will find all of these factors, too. Your body is not just a vehicle that you can neglect and replace. Your body is you, and if you neglect it there can be many negative effects you won't expect that impact your whole life, just as looking after it can have many positive effects you won't expect. My body has become more efficient in pretty much everything now even though I don't feel I made any big change. I just set aside an hour a day, 5 days a week to exercise using an activity I enjoy, and that's prevented it from feeling like a chore, which in turn has helped me to maintain the habit. The results have given me a new body, both visually and in terms of strength, and even my concentration, determination and motivation in other areas has improved. At risk of sounding like a pretentious ass or a hippy, my passion for fitness has resonated into other corners of my life I never expected it to, and I know for a fact that I have only done myself good.
   Some of you may find my posts about exercise boring, and I am sorry for that. I appreciate you sticking with my blog through these posts, but there is a simple fact that if you don't like them, you don't have to read them. If you're only here for the odd crafting post, just follow my crafting pinterest board, and along with crafting repins, you'll also see my own crafting posts go up without the spam of fitness.



Sunday, 22 March 2015

Blog Transition - You Probably Noticed.

   I think I've lost a lot of my original readers. This blog used to be heavily craft-based with the odd personal post thrown in, and I think people enjoyed that - I certainly did - but then, when I made my new year's resolution in 2014, I started to blog about fitness and exercise a lot as a way of publicly committing to my change. I didn't necessarily enjoy exercise back then, but it was a good way to find new things to do, and it gradually grew into a passion (or obsession, Seeg would say, and I suppose I can't say he's wrong). But this meant that my mind turned to that more than to other things, and joined with running my little shop, preparing for my art exhibit this summer and writing my book, there wasn't much time left for crafting. Crafting was something I did in my free time, and it's not felt like there's been much of that for a while. When there is I try to use it constructively, and with my mind turning so often towards my passion for exercise and fitness, it's not turning so much towards crafts.

   I've been trying to bring crafting back to the blog, but I've never really had many ideas. I see great things on Pinterest, but I don't want to copy them because they're not my ideas. If I came up with it first but then see it somewhere else, I might go ahead and do it anyway because I may have had an alternative method, but if I see it somewhere else first then I won't. I don't mind people featuring my crafts, but copying them and claiming them as their own I just can't stand, so I won't do that to anyone else, either. And I'm the kind of person that uses things like crafting for recognition - yes, I admit it. If I can't get an "oh, wow, that's so clever!" from someone, I generally won't do it, so I never try my hand at casual crafting. If I can't put it on my blog as unique content or sell it in my little jewellery shop, I don't see the point. Gifts are about the only times that that stops being the case, but even then I try to come up with something original and half the time they end up going on my blog anyway.

   It does make me sad, but I don't believe that I should limit my passions to keep a cohesive blog. A Blackbird's Epiphany is my space, and all my old posts are still here, buried beneath my new content. I haven't deleted anything to make my blog seem like a fresh and new fitness-exclusive blog, because that's not how the blog has progressed, and it's not how I've progressed. It's likely that it will change again in the future to focus on some other unforseen passion - or perhaps a passion I already have but have little to say about it.
   I do still make crafting posts, and I do have a few projects in mind I want to try, it's just a case of finding the money for it. I love baking, too, so whether I'm obsessed with exercise or not doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly give that up. Yes, I bake much less often because I usually end up eating the cakes as soon as they come out of the oven, and that's not good any day of the week, but also because they would just be simple cakes, nothing special and nothing worth putting on the blog. I never bother at all anymore unless I have a good idea, only then do I make the cake. If, however, it's someone's birthday, I still try to come up with something clever to make it more special. The orchid cake I made for my mum's birthday wasn't made for the blog, it was made for her. The crafting post was an after-thought once I'd already started it and I went back and made a couple of extra orchids to get the first few progress pictures.

   What I'm saying is that while this blog has changed, and will continue to change, I do have the same passions I've always had. I've just got one more now, and it's one I feel I have a lot to say about. It doesn't mean it's my biggest passion, however. My absolute biggest passion is my writing, and you'll notice I rarely mention it - and I've never mentioned any titles, character names, plots or anything because I'm paranoid about theft. So my biggest passion is one that's rarely mentioned on here. Rather than talk about it I'd rather work on it, keep it a secret and hope I can get somewhere with it without someone else stealing my idea and getting there first. Being a successful fantasy author is still the only thing I truly want to do with my life, and while getting into a career in fitness has crossed my mind once in a while, I'm not at all convinced I could maintain the enthusiasm long enough for it to last.

   I suppose I've written this post as a sort of apology to my old readers who will never see this, and as a means of explaining the transition about 15 months too late. Still, I love my blog as it is and the only thing I'd change is the lack of crafting posts. I've already started working on bringing back my old Etsy Finds posts, and I do still have some ideas for crafts, it's just a matter of getting around to them. I feel like I've made a presence for myself with my fitness posts, though, and that's a great feeling. They've been featured in a number of places and I've worked with some amazing brands, too, and it's been a lot of fun so far.
   If you are still sticking with me, I truly appreciate your time, but if you're only here for the odd crafting post, you could always just follow my crafting pinterest board. As well as awesome crafts repinned from elsewhere, all of my own crafting tutorials are added there right away, so you won't miss them.

   But I still write. I still play games. I still live for fantasy. I still craft. I still eat cakes and chocolate. I still binge-watch Star Trek. I just like to lift some weights, throw out a few roundhouse kicks and twist myself into a Lord of the Fishes, too.



Saturday, 21 March 2015

Etsy Finds

Spring is around the corner and I'm starting to get in the mood! I'm still for the neutral tones of winter, but I can't help feeling more jovial and bouncy when spring starts to roll around. So it was inevitable as I put together these picks from my ancient Etsy favourites that I would be drawn to such pieces. Their soft colours popped out at me, but their light-hearted nature secured their place ^^






Friday, 20 March 2015

The Clangers Explain The Eclipse


Apparently they're making a new series of this old 1970's kid's show. It's wrong how excited I am about it. I was born in 1991, I didn't grow up with this, but I've got the DVDs because how can you not love the Clangers?! 







Thursday, 19 March 2015

10 Easy Ways to Boost Your Weight Loss

   Alternate your workouts, and try to include 3 non-consecutive days of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) - just 20 minutes of HIIT can send your fat burn through the roof and give you considerable after-burn (when your body continues to burn extra calories even after you've finished). Fill the remaining two days with yoga and cardio, for example, and you've got an effective set-up. 


   Start your day with a glass of hot water and lemon juice. This helps to kickstart and care for your liver which is responsible for an awful lot in your body, including filtering out the toxins in your environment. You can get a bad liver from things other than excessive alcohol, and a poor or sluggish liver can lead to an increase of fat around your middle. Also be sure to eat broccoli, cauliflower and other members of the cabbage family to help it along.


   Get some protein in your breakfast. Lots of cereals, even the 'healthy' ones, are often packed with sugars. Sugars digest very quickly and if the energy gained from it isn't used right away, it's not going to help your waistline. Protein, on the other hand, digests much slower and helps to maintain muscle mass. Slow digestion means you'll feel fuller longer so you shouldn't feel the need to snack around the clock. Your breakfast should be filling anyway, as it is the most important meal of the day, and trying to cut down on calories by skimping on breakkie isn't going to do your waistline or your concentration any good in the end. Try to find cereals with a high amount of protein, between 10-15g. Alternatively an egg or two, or oats and milk, will be a good alternative.

   Drink water. This is something that can easily be overlooked. You need to consume 2 litres of water a day, and while this does also include the water in our food, you do have to drink it, too. Water helps to maintain normal function in your body and is one of the most necessary things we need to live. So take a step away from diuretics like caffine which encourage you to pee and turn to fruit/herbal/green teas, fruit juice (one of your five a day, but only one; avoid added sugar, as fruit is filled with natural sugars) or plain water. Don't like water? That's tough, really, but it's a unique taste that you will get used to. Don't overdo it, though. 6 litres of water is lethal.

   Rest. Take a day off of your exercise. You can hit a plateau by not getting enough rest. Aim for no more than 5 days of exercise, and take two non-consecutive days off, ideally Wednesday and Sunday. Exercising every day seems more productive, but if you don't give your body the chance to recover, everything will slow down to a stop as it focuses more on completing a task rather than growing beyond it. Taking a break can also keep your workout tougher for longer, meaning you won't grow out of it as quickly, which will keep you losing weight for longer. Plus, you'd be surprised what one day of rest can do. Your body is remarkable when it comes to learning new things and recovering from those things.


   Change your workouts every month, as workouts can get stale, and when they get stale you lose enthusiasm for them and you're likely to hit a plateau. At that point, it doesn't matter if you keep doing that same workout for another month, you won't see much - if any - weight loss. This is because the stresses put on your body to complete the activity becomes normal for it and it adapts at a surprising rate, focusing instead on becoming more efficient at performing the moves rather than struggling to complete them. This is why you don't necessarily see athletes who are just sticks - because their bodies are more adapted to their activity as it rarely changes.
   This is a great opportunity to encourage yourself to try new things. Changing your workout could just mean switching up your circuit - repeat it backwards, jumble it up or add new moves - it could mean using heavier weights, it could mean doing more hill runs instead of street runs. But the most effective way of taking advantage of this is to completely change your workout. Buy a new DVD, attend a new class, buy a new piece of kit - and if you need inspiration or a fool-proof workout, check out the 10 workouts I used through 2014, which included strength, yoga, and Irish dancing, all in my living room. I've made the same resolution this year, too, so every month I'll be trying and blogging about another workout/combination.

   Familiarise yourself with a kettlebell. These are one of the best pieces of kit you can possibly use, and they're widely available. Why are they so good?
1: Unlike dumbbells, the weight of the kettlebell isn't evenly distributed, instead it's a weighted ball rather than being at either side of your hand. The handle is above the weight rather than between it, too, which makes it harder to control, and you end up using your whole body to stabilise it.
2: Kettlebells are also heavier than dumbbells, making them more challenging, but they're kit you can use with both hands or just one - dumbbell sets usually start at 1kg and work up to 2 or 2.5kg, growing in 0.5kg increments for each new weight. Kettlebells, however, start at 2kg and increase by that amount for each weight, meaning the highest weight in a standard set if either 6kg or 8kg.
3: Don't let weight put you off! The majority of kettlebell exercises are full-body exercises, meaning it's far more than your arms and shoulders that get a workout from it; your legs, glutes and back often get involved, too, so you use your whole body to support the weight. 3kg dumbbells are still a challenge for me, but it's the 6kg kettlebell that seems to match it.
4: Kettlebells are an extremely versatile piece of kit and even provides cardio as well as resistance training, allowing you to shed fat and build muscle, and muscle is key to not only increasing the fat burn, but also keeping the fat off, especially when you get older.
   Here's a great page detailing 33 kettlebell moves for beginners all the way to advanced.

   Make sure you get enough sleep, around 7 hours on average. Make a routine to go to bed around the same time every night so you get up around the same time in the morning. This will set your body clock to a certain routine, so even if you don't go to bed until midnight every night, your body will be used to it and can regulate itself as such. Going to bed earlier than midnight is better, but, let's face it, we all have the childish element to ourselves that says "I'm a grown up, I can stay up as long as I want!"

   Never, ever, ever skip meals. Instead, distribute your calories throughout the day to accommodate for snacking as well. Ideally, you want to be like a Bactrian camel eating snow: little but often. Spread your food out so that you have about 5 sittings of 300 calories through the day. This will prevent over-eating by taking in lots of calories in one go, a portion of which your body would store rather than use. Instead you're giving your body frequent refuels, but your body will actually use that fuel rather than store it, which is what can happen if you eat only 3 times a day at 500 calories a sitting. It will also prevent sneaking snacks because you'll have already accommodated for them, and it will prevent you from getting hungry, too. Being hungry is not a good thing.

   Speaking of hunger, the next time you feel hungry, drink a glass of water, especially if you only ate about an hour before. Thirst can present itself in the same manner as hunger if your body gets confused, so be sure to drink a glass of water each time you feel hungry. If, after half an hour, you're still hungry, eat something. If you're not hungry any more, you won't notice because the water will have done its job. That's not to say 'try to replace eating with drinking', but it's simply a fact that sometimes if you need a drink, your body lets you know in the same way it tells you it needs food. Of course, if you've not eaten for 3 or 4 hours, odds are it really is hunger, and it may well also be meal time. At times like these, well, this point can be forgotten.
   Keep your mind busy, too. Boredom can make you think you're hungry, too, so keep your mind busy to keep it off of food, and drink a glass of water if it persists. Boredom hunger is something I struggle with in the evenings, but drinking a cup of green tea (so no milk or sugar, just hot, green water) often makes me forget about it. Finding something to do does the same.


   These are all super simple ways to boost your weight loss without breaking the bank, but if you're already using these methods and are looking for another boost, try supplements - but only those with natural ingredients. Artificial ingredients, especially for those new to such products, may hinder rather than help and lead to fatigue. Fat-burning supplements are not a magic pill, they will not work if you don't help them to - that means you have to eat well and get regular exercise. Supplements like Blackstone Labs' EpiCat uses compounds found in green tea and dark chocolate which can help to speed up metabolism, and others which can help to increase lean muscle mass with increases metabolism further - and lean muscle is responsible for the gorgeous, curvy silhouette every woman wants. You won't get it from cardio and dieting alone, you need to build that muscle!



Monday, 16 March 2015

Hard Body & Yoga Inferno - 2 Weeks Later

   This has been the toughest month so far, and I'm only half way through. Every month I change my workout to avoid plateaus, but I also attempt to target my body from different angles. Sometimes that means a challenging workout, maybe something out of my comfort zone, or using kit I'm unfamiliar with and so on, but this month it's been endurance. My workouts are usually 30-40 minutes long every day, and my body is prepared for that. But this month it's been 75.

   I really wanted to get the most out of Hard Body and Yoga Inferno. No, the DVDs aren't too expensive, but I don't want to miss out on either the opportunity or the experience. My original plan was to alternate them, but that meant, with Wednesdays and Sundays off, I was only going to get 3 days of Hard Body and 2 days of Yoga Inferno in a week, meaning only 6 days of each level of Hard Body and 4 days of each level of yoga. That, frankly, is not enough time to get much out of it at all. It takes me, personally, about 4 days of use to get to grips with a workout before I can really throw my all into it - learning the individual moves, learning the circuits, figuring out where I should put more of my energy and where to conserve it for the next set, how many reps are involved and so on. With the yoga in particular, just as I would be ready to really go for it, it would be time to change. Plus, while the 45 minutes of Hard Body is tough, I also wasn't happy with the idea of taking Wednesdays off, even though I needed the rest. Rest days feel counter-productive, so it's hard to take a day off and sit still when I don't feel I've been working hard enough to need it.


   So I changed my plan. Perhaps I'm pushing myself hard, but at least when Wednesday comes along I'm happy to take the day off, and I believe I'm eating the right stuff because I'm not getting light-headed, tired or physically weak after the Thursday/Friday/Saturday 3-day stretch.
   How did I change it? I've used both DVDs every day. I did give myself a little bit of an ease-up, though, as, rather than opting for the easier workout on each DVD for the first 2 weeks and the harder of each for the second, I've switched them, opting for level 1 of Hard Body and level 2 of Yoga Inferno for the first 2 weeks, followed by level 2 of Hard Body and level 1 of Yoga Inferno, just to offer a little balance and assurance that at least in some way it'll get easier.
   So, yes, it's been tough, I've been working my ass off, but I said I had high expectations of this month and I think this is how I'm going to reach them, and as long as I take in enough calories, keep myself healthy and take suitable rest, I shouldn't over-work myself. In theory.

   Anyway, about the DVDs themselves:
   Hard Body is difficult. It really is. I had expected it to be a little slower-paced because it was 45 minutes long, but it's not. It's like doing one of the 30 Day Shred workouts twice in one day back-to-back, but harder. The 30 Day Shred is tough as it is, I'm not downplaying that, but the moves in Hard Body are more advanced and even tougher. There are 6 circuits that add up to about 20 minutes, and when you've completed all 6 you go right back to the beginning and do them all a second time, targeting the other side of your body. Most of the moves aren't one-sided, however, so your full body gets a great workout, and while all circuits are consistently tough, it goes without saying that they will start out a little easier and gradually get slightly harder, so when you go back to the beginning you at least know you can manage that first circuit again, and it feels easy in comparison to circuit 6.
   Hard Body is not a DVD to use if you're new to Jillian Michaels' methods, however. You won't be able to complete it. If you keep stopping in the middle of sets you will lose out. You have to be able to keep going. If this means using lighter weights in order to complete the set, then use lighter weights, but if you can't complete a set even with the lightest weights, it's out of your league and you need to build up to it with another DVD. Even the beginner modifications are relatively advanced, and even after 2 weeks I was still doing a considerable number of them with those easier modifications.

   Yoga Inferno is also not really much good for people new to yoga. Yes, there are modifications again, but the poses are advanced and there's only so much you can do to modify it. I would definitely recommend using Yoga Meltdown first, or having some experience with yoga of some kind. Like I said above, I started Yoga Inferno with the second work out rather than the first, which uses light hand weights, making it quite tough. She states at the beginning that if you're new to it you can forgo weights entirely and still get a lot out of it, but she doesn't explain the poses. She gives you the name and expects you to already know them. Of course, if you've used Yoga Meltdown, you will know them, but that right there will really frustrate new users.

   As for my daily set-up, I always start with Hard Body, and rather than do 10 minutes of dance cardio from a random 10 Minute Solution DVD as a warm up first like I used to in order to make sure I got the most out of the DVD, I jumped right in to Hard Body and used the warm up on that like a normal, sane person would. The workout is 45 minutes long, not 20, so I didn't have the worry that I hadn't warmed up properly to get the most out of it. In some of the other DVDs I have the warm ups are too brief and that's where that paranoia has come from. Hard Body is also the tougher of the two DVDs, so by doing it first, I can make sure I have the energy to complete it rather than spending myself on the easier workout first.
   Despite how tough it is, though, I do always have energy left to do Yoga Inferno afterwards. Being a different kind of exercise, I'm able to find some new enthusiasm even after a tough 45 minute workout. Level 2 of Yoga Inferno uses weights, but Jillian recommends using lighter weights than those she recommends in Hard Body. So, for the first 45 minutes I'm using mostly 2 & 2.5kg weights (the heaviest I have). For Yoga Inferno, I'm using 1 & 1.5kg. It gives me the chance to keep working my muscles, but by using the lighter weights I'm able to gradually turn it all down, polishing them off.
   Ending on yoga also enables me to get a really good stretch with muscles that are already warm and limbered up, which also helps prevent injury in yoga by stretching cold muscles. This also means that even after a 75 minute workout I'm not aching when I get up the next day. The deep breathing - especially ending in corpse pose - really helps to draw the workout to a close, too, which is a great end for the yoga DVD alone, but even better after Hard Body as well, and, believe it or not, I'm re-energised at the end of it and totally ready for the rest of the day.

   I know it sounds a bit much, but I've been getting on really well with it, and the after-burn that comes with repairing muscle tissue after all of that keeps my metabolism revving away. I even still had the energy to ride a horse after that full workout on Friday, which was freaking awesome, and I didn't suffer the next day, either!
   Tomorrow I'm starting on Hard Body level 2, but Yoga Inferno level 1. So, while I know I'll struggle with Hard Body, at least I can go through it knowing I have easier yoga afterwards, and level 1 of Yoga Inferno doesn't use weights, so that will also be a welcome change.
   This spur-of-the-moment adjustment absolutely isn't one I plan to make often, but I admit that I probably will next month, but next month the workouts I plan to use are 30 and 25 minutes long, not 45 and 30.


   On a foody note, USN's Whey & Oats which I've been having for breakfast is great, too. I used to have Special K for breakfast with Greek yoghurt which was delicious, and I'd have that at 7:30, but I'd be hungry by 9. I have a bowl of these oats at the same time and I don't feel hungry or have the mind to think about food until I finish my workout at 11. Even on my rest days I don't feel hungry until 11:30, and I have the time to daydream about food at those points. The main reason for this is the protein. Protein is key when it comes to keeping you full because it digests very slowly. Carbohydrates digest much quicker and are your body's preferred source of energy because of it. Unfortunately, this also means that your body can get overloaded with energy if just carbs are eaten, and lots of that energy won't get used which is why people associate carbs with weight-gain. But, by eating your carbs with protein, the digestion slows. This means you get a more regulated release of energy so your body gets the chance to actually use it rather than store it, and you stay full for longer meaning you obviously eat less frequently because you're simply not hungry. So a protein-rich breakfast is key, but you need to make sure you get carbs alongside it to make sure you actually have energy to start your day. This breakfast has that, as well as a good amount of fibre. I always add flaxseed to mine for an extra boost of fibre, and a good dose of Omega 3.
   I like to have the apple & cinnamon when I wake up feeling motivated and serious about my goals, and the marshmallow cookie if I feel a little more light hearted, had a good day the day before, or, in contrast, need some help finding a cheerful start. It tastes and smells like cake. It's amazing.
   Oh, and, as a side-note, your metabolism as at its peak in the morning, so eating cake for breakfast isn't the worst idea in the world. Your body is far more likely to use the energy gained from it through the day and, let's be honest, it'll put a smile on your face. Not that I'm condoning unhealthy breakfast choices, but, in case you were wondering when your birthday rolls around, it's not something you should feel bad about. I know I'll be keeping it in mind...



Saturday, 14 March 2015

So, I Rode a Horse

   My birthday may have been way back in January, but my best friend gave me my gift yesterday. And it was awesome.
   I had my first riding lesson. On a horse.
   I write, read and live for fantasy, and so horses are generally a preferred method of transport. Come on, you all know how bad I am. But holy crap, after one lesson on a 23 year old training horse, the idea that someone can simply jump on a horse and ride it somewhere is absurd! It's not easy. Sure, I bet it comes naturally to some people, but for most of us, it's a trial to keep it moving around a square track. Corners are hard.

   My best friend, Lucy, has always loved horses, ever since I knew her in primary school, and she's always wanted to ride them. For her birthday last year, a friend of hers got her her first lesson, and it quickly became habit. She's been riding for a year now and she has good confidence with it, but with one lesson a week about 30 minutes long, there's not much room for quick advancement, and that's assuming she has the time between work to book a lesson at all.
   She wanted me to go and watch her ride - it's something she loves and she wanted to share it, even if that meant that the other person would be standing in the rain by a smelly stable watching her. And I was excited for her excitement, so I went quite happily. I brought my camera, too, figuring she'd surely want some pictures, and bless her heart, she did. She'd brought her compact camera with her, but after 3 pictures the battery died, so I was glad I brought my DSLR, which I'd fully charged the night before.
   Of course, it left me wanting a go. I'd never been around horses before, and while I'm a huge animal person, I was a little intimidated. I could never afford it or find the time to do it either, so it never happened, and then in the end she decided to do it for my birthday. I'd put off accepting the invitation for a little while because I was intimidated, but last week she basically threw it on me, and, having not seen her in a month, I accepted.
   It. Was. Awesome.

   Lucy told me, as it was my first lesson, that I would be led around the track with either her or the teacher holding a lead so they could steer the horse and I could instead just experience being on its back. That hit me as kind of rubbish, but I figure that such things are in place for a reason, so I didn't argue, I just accepted it.
   Boots and hats were provided by the school, and the field was small. There was a box so you could get on the horse, so I got on easily enough without comically slipping off the other side, but my goodness it was weird. I sat in the saddle, got comfy and found my sit bones easily enough - all this yoga and exercise helps you to identify precise areas of your body as well as strengthen them - and listened to the instructor talk me through basic details, such as how to hold the reins, how to steer and so on. All while she was doing that, though, the horse was beneath me, and at one point I thought it was falling over sideways and that I was going to go with it. Fortunately, rather than panic or react in any visible way, I froze and stayed as upright as I could. Then I realised it was just shifting its weight. It was a really strange sensation.
   I got the grip of the reins quickly and I was sat perfectly, or so I was told, and then we set off.
   Now, I didn't expect this to be easy, otherwise you wouldn't need lessons. But I didn't expect it to be this hard. It took me a good ten minutes to get to grips with steering. I had thought that, as the horse knew the track well, it would just follow a usual route, but no! It did what I told it! Unfortunately, what I told it to do wasn't what I wanted it to do. To steer left, you leave the right rein slack and pull gently on the left, but you push your right leg into its side. I just couldn't get that co-ordination, and the horse, at one point, just turned in a full circle on the spot because I was struggling so much, and a couple of times tried to return to the teacher in the middle of the field.
   Yes, the middle of the field. It took me about 20 minutes to realise that there was no lead. I was in complete (and poor) control of the animal. I had forgotten that detail, so preoccupied I was with trying to come to grips with steering, and suddenly I felt a lot better about it. The trouble I was having was my own fault and subsequently something I could work on, because they'd changed my lesson to give me a better taste of the experience.
   They did put me on a lead, eventually, but that was because we were going for a trot. A trot. It took Lucy weeks to build up to a trot! This meant I also needed the balance and leg strength to rise in the stirrups. Fortunately my balance and strength wasn't a problem and I got to grips with it quickly, but that's not to say it was easy. Trying to do that while the horse was stood still was one thing, while it was walking was another, and while it was trotting was another altogether! But I did it.


   I did have a few other problems. March in England is a deceptive month. Spring is coming, and we all look out of the window at the golden sun and think "ooh, I don't need a coat!" You go outside and it's 15C and you think it's positively tropical. And then, once you've adjusted, it drops back to 5C and you're holding the reins without gloves, unable to feel them in your fingers, and instinctively pull the reins closer to you to try to keep yourself warm by compacting yourself, and then you just confuse and upset the horse.
   If I'd brought (read: owned) gloves I might have gotten on better. So, when I go back, I'll be sure to bring some.
   Oh yes, I'm going back. It wasn't so hard that I wouldn't want to try again; quite the opposite! It was just difficult enough for me to think "next time I'll nail it!"
   It was frustrating, there were a few moments when the horse stopped and I dropped my hands because I was cold and confused (yes, the instructor had to remind me which was my left and my right) and he wouldn't move. I wasn't afraid of hurting him because these are strong creatures that can bear your weight, and these horses in particular are used to it. I was told to talk to the horse, urge him on and tell him well done, and I found he was particularly co-operative when I said "Come on, Rufus, we can do this! Let's go!" But I also made sure to apologise to him for being a nuisance, but I was told he's had much worse.


   I'm good at stopping the horse, and I can sit and maintain my balance with little trouble and without having to be told not to lean forwards or backwards. I didn't find it the slightest bit uncomfortable, though I've been told it can be hell on your thighs with rubbing and aching, but I was fine when I woke this morning, even with the 75 minute workout the day before.
   Steering was my only issue, and I think we can all agree that while it's good that I can sit comfortably on the horse, if I can't steer it's little use. I'm not going to get where I want to go if I tell it to go left when I want it to go right. But that's all the more reason to have another go!
   It's affordable, too, and if I stick to weekend lessons I certainly have the time to do it since I don't have to stay home and care for my mum if my dad's home. But I'd rather do it with Lucy than on my own. I feel like it's her domain, and it's something we can certainly do together. The trouble is...I'm not sure about taking that plunge. In all honesty I have no excuse not to, I'm fit enough to do it, it's fun, it's cheap, and I've got plenty of time to do it on the weekends...but...I suppose, even after that one lesson, I'm still daunted by it.

   Still, it was an amazing experience and one I will have again. With gloves. And a bottle of water.



Etsy Finds

Some of the stuff on Etsy is truly random. Not necessarily in all ways - some things are really useful but inspired by the oddest things! And, in truth, this teeny weeny collection was brought together because of the axolotl stickers which I saw the other day and just thought "how bloody random."







Thursday, 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett

We've lost a good one today. No one could sport a hat or write so sarcastic a novel as Sir Pratchett.
Rest in peace you crazy old man, and know that while your shoes will never be filled, we'll give it a damned good go.






Monday, 9 March 2015

How To Make Sugarpaste Orchids Without Cutters

   My mum has always loved orchids. They're very pretty flowers with a gorgeous shape and feel, and their colours and patterns can be beautifully plain or intricate. I saw a beautiful resin-covered orchid on Etsy a couple of years ago (which I found again recently), a real orchid preserved and protected in polyresin, and I'd loved to have bought it for my mum. The trouble is, she could never wear it. In truth I'm not sure she could even look at it. Her disability, multiple sclerosis, is quite severe, and her eyes shake from side to side constantly, affecting her vision. She also has little control over her limbs, suffering from constant tremors, so if she were to try to hold even a solid, resin-covered orchid, she'd likely break it. It makes me quite sad...but I may well buy it for her one day anyway.
   A few years ago she had loads of orchids growing in the conservatory, too, and I've grown quite fond of them. Orchids and poppies are my mother's flowers - that's what I think when I see either of them, and when her birthday came around early this month, I decided I wanted to try something more than just a sickly chocolatey chocolate cake, even though she probably wouldn't understand it, if she'd even see it, but I'm the kind of person who really does believe that it's the effort that counts, not the gratification from the person in question, and whether she's mentally handicapped or not is no reason not to put in that effort, especially when it's so difficult to buy her a gift because she physically can't do anything.

   Anyway! Rest assured that multiple sclerosis also induces euphoria, so while she doesn't understand or react to a lot of what goes on around her, she's always laughing and always smiling, and that's a really wonderful thing for me and my family as her carers.

   I wanted to put some edible orchids on her cake this year, and while initially I had looked into buying some that were premade, they had wire in them to give them better shape. I don't find things like that impressive, if I'm honest. I don't want big decorations on cakes that you can't eat except candles. If I'm buying a sugar orchid, I want it to be edible, otherwise what's the use? So I started looking at orchid cutters and thought I'd take a massive chance and try making my first sugar flower. Most people probably start with daisies - those jasmine flowers you can see on my jasmine tea sponge cake recipe were made alongside these orchids, but only after the orchids had already been shaped.
   Well, I bought myself a cutter set, some sugar paste and some dusky pink edible dust and crossed by fingers. I ended up not using the cutters because they were too small, but I wondered if I could perhaps make them with paper and cut the sugarpaste by hand instead. Unless I need to make loads of flowers, I'll never need to buy flower cutters again, because the paper worked a charm.
   Anyway, this is how I made them without flower cutters!



You will need:
Paper, pencil and scissors
Flour/powdered sugar/corn flour to keep from sticking
Sugar paste, fondant or something similar
Dusky pink edible dust (I used Sugarflair)
Pink gel colouring (I used Sugarflair again)
Medium soft paint brush
Narrow paint brush
Cupcake tray and fine piping nozzles to help with shaping


Method:


1. To make the stencils, choose your flower and find a picture of suitable sugar flower cutters online. You just need a reference picture to draw from. Once you've found your reference, draw it out on paper the size you want it to be. There are likely to be at least two pieces, so having a reference picture of all pieces in the same image will help you with scaling them all in proportion to eachother. If you don't get it right, you can draw another, and sugarpaste, fondant and all that is a lot like clay, so you can screw bad flowers back up and try again with no wasted material, or flatten the fondant a little around the edges to make pieces a little bigger.
   I made my petal ring 3.5cm from the centre to the tip of each petal, and the throat 4cm from tip to tip.



2.  Cut your stencils, spread either flour, powdered sugar or cornflour lightly over your work surface to keep the sugar paste from sticking and roll out your sugar paste. Place the paper stencils over the sugar paste and, using a sharp knife, cut around it.



3. Take the throat piece and gently press down the edges to round and smooth them out so they're not square-edged. Then bring the two straight sides together to make a cone. Cover the outside of your fine piping nozzle or other conical piece in flour and stand upright, then place the throat over the end upside down. The piping nozzle will help keep the throat piece open while it dries, as it will likely flatten out if you leave it lying down. Turn away the rounded edges of the throat so that they stick out.
   If you mess these up, break the sugar paste as you work, don't worry, just screw it up and try again. I made 9 throats in total, 5 of which broke while I was pinching them. It was frustrating at that point because I thought that that right there meant it wasn't going to work out, but I was proven wrong!


4. Take your petal pieces and smooth the edges as you did with the throat pieces. Lightly powder the cupcake tray, take your flower pieces and place them inside each cavity. They should be too big to cover the bottom, so the petals will curve upwards. I wanted to try to round them all properly, but as this was my first go, it didn't work out too well, so I settled for this. Once coloured, however, this little detail isn't noticed because the eyes are drawn away, so if your throats and petals aren't perfect, don't worry about it. Apply a hole a little lower than the middle of the flower. This is to insert the end of the throat into.

5. Leave the pieces to dry. I found that by using flour as opposed to nothing, the sugar paste dried a lot faster because the flour soaked up the moisture. However, you can always try this quick-dry method for fondant. A lot of people have had success with it, myself included, but I never tried it with this. If you don't want to risk melting it, which can happen if you get it wrong, leave it to dry over night or simply until hard.


6. Take your soft medium brush and the pink dust. Lightly powder the brush and apply it down the centre of each petal. Be gentle with it, you can't take the colour off once you've put it on. Once you've applied it to the petals, take the throat piece and apply it to the edges and just inside the throat. Apply more to the edges to darken it. The dust is awesome because you can very, very easily get soft edges and fade the colour out.



7. Take your pink gel colouring and your fine brush and put a little bit of colour on the brush and apply the pattern to the throat. I started with the line down the middle, then the large dots beside it, then dots around the edge, then worked my way in. This allowed me to get a feel for the gel and the brush with larger dots and then get finer ones later when I was more comfortable.

8. Now you have a few options. You can either fix the throat and petal base together, or you can just place them together. I was only sitting them on my cake, they didn't need to stand up, levitate or juggle or anything, so I didn't fix the pieces together. Instead I just put the petal pieces where I wanted them, then added the throats into the holes and let gravity and the frosting beneath it hold it in place. If you want them to be stuck together, however, you could use royal icing. I don't recommend using more fondant, as that would require applying pressure to at least one of the two pieces which will likely result in a breakage. Royal icing, however, doesn't require any pressure as it's softer than the two pieces, so it will act as a glue with minimal damage.



   No, these orchids aren't veined, but fortunately orchid petals aren't too obviously veined anyway. You could use the other end of one of the brushes or the back of a butter knife to vein it if you like, but I didn't bother. The orchids are also not too realistic, either, but I'm more than pleased with them, and Seeg, who is hard to impress, actually said "I'm impressed", so they're more than good enough for me! You may also notice now you've seen them as individual pieces without paint or powder just how much of an effect the 'painting' has, as it really distracts from any imperfections in the shape.
   These really are quite easy to make for such a unique and tropical flower, but I've said before how difficult I find things in the kitchen, so for me to have done this means it can't be that bad! I urge you to give it a try, especially with stencils. I don't think I'll ever need to buy cutters again! And cutters were half the reason I'd never tried flowers before. They can be quite expensive.
   These orchids went down a treat, so it can be done without cutters, unless you're making lots of them, or often. In that case, cutters are better because they reduce the time, but at the end of the day, not by much. The cutters don't aid 3D-shaping the petals and throats, after all, and neither do they help to colour the flowers.