Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Christmas Sock Exchange 2015

2015's Sock Exchange is closed.


   A Christmas sock exchange. I wanted to do this last year - I even bought a pair of socks months in advance - but I was super busy with my shop and I didn't have the time. Now, however, I'm doing it! I've set aside the time and the plans so it can all happen, at last!
   It's sort of like a Christmas gift exchange but simpler and less defined, meaning it's easier to buy for your partner as the contents are simpler - they don't have to be generic, though! Use your imagination and create a mini Christmas stocking worth having.
   You don't have to be a blogger to participate in this Secret Santa exchange, but you're more than welcome to blog about your participation if you'd like!
   For full info on how to apply - it's open worldwide - read below for the form, contact email, rules and suggestions!


   Think 'tiny stocking'. Buy a pair of Christmassy socks - £2 New Look, $2 Target, etc - and fill one with about £10/$15 of Christmas goodies, stuff the other sock in the top to keep it all in, and send it to your assigned recipient with a Christmas card! Dead simple.
   I'm opening it up worldwide, you need only contact me by October 24th with the info requested below, including whether you'd prefer to send within your same country or if you're happy with sending overseas, and then I'll assign everyone! Be aware, though, that if you would prefer to send to someone in your own country and you're the only person from said country, you may have to change your mind - you will, however, be notified.
   Between October 24th and October 31st you will be able to back out if you prefer, and then on November 1st I will give out the assigned individuals. You won't be paired up unless two people wish to ship nationally and they are the only two from the same country, otherwise you'll each be assigned someone different so odd numbers won't matter.
   Pretty it up - get festive! Package it all up safely in a bubble-lined mailer, tick 'gift' on the customs form if you're sending internationally, and send it off!


Rules:
• To participate you must fill in the below form and email it to me by October 24th.
• You will have the chance to change your mind between October 24th and October 31st.
• As of November 1st, anyone who hasn't dropped out is obligated to participate; this is also the date when you will be emailed your partner's information.
• You must ship your package no later than November 21st to ensure it arrives in time for Christmas.
• Please obtain proof of postage from the post office, if you can. This tends to be free and in the form of a receipt - they usually offer, but if they don't, just ask at the counter.
• You must buy new socks, unworn and adult size. You can choose to just buy patterned day socks or you could choose to buy more expensive rubber-bottomed slipper-socks instead. The choice is yours, but be aware that you may not receive the same generosity. Don't think about what you'll receive, think instead about what you will give. It's for Christmas, after all!
• The cost of the socks' contents can exceed £10/$15, but, again, don't expect to receive anything worth more. £10/$15 is the average.
• You don't need to fill both socks! Fill one sock, roll up the other and use it to 'cork' the filled sock.

Required Information (by October 24th):
Full Name:
Email address:
Full address, including country:
Sending preference: National/Europe/International*
Allergies (food colouring, Coeliac's, sensitive skin, etc):
Blog (if you have one):

*Delete all unappropriate options. If you select 'national' but you are the only person within your country participating, you will be contacted on October 25th. You can either change your mind and switch to an alternative option, or you can choose to back out.



Contents suggestions:
• Stationery
• Jewellery
• Decorations & Christmassy stuff!
• Sweets/chocolates
• Toiletries
• Christmas novelties
• Tiny toys/games


All participants must submit the above details by October 24th. There will then be a 1-week window in which to drop out. As of November 1st, anyone who hasn't dropped out is obligated to participate properly. All packages must be shipped to the recipients by November 21st to ensure delivery in time for Christmas. Anyone who signs up must be willing to participate fully.
All participants must also be willing to pay full shipping fees.
Be sure to mark the package as 'gift' on any customs forms.
   I cannot be held responsible for missing packages or uncooperative partners. If you sign up, please play properly, and play nice. If your package doesn't arrive before Christmas, don't jump to conclusions; with the Christmas rush clogging up the postal system, it's inevitable that it may get slowed down and delayed. Be patient and try not to think about it!



Monday, 28 September 2015

October - Ripped In 30 Repeat

   I rather enjoyed Ripped In 30 back in May - it's sort of like the 30 Day Shred in that you're expected to work every day for 30 days and there are progressive levels to work at, but you change levels every week rather than every 10 days.
   It's tougher than the shred, though. I'd say it was the next level; complete that and move on to this.
   I admit that my mind has been a little too busy with working on planning out my next book before the Christmas rush takes over my shop, so I've not actually looked into buying a new DVD and nothing has popped out at me on websites or in magazines to try instead, but I'm happy to repeat what was a really great workout.
   So, no, nothing new this month either, but after having worked myself to a migraine and overworked myself in general through September, I think I need to take on a more familiar workout. I have some in mind that I've just not gotten around to purchasing yet, so I'm hoping that November will finally see a new workout, but for the time being, this will do.


   I've been pre-occupied with planning out my next book because I want to start writing it in January, and while that's a way off, come mid-October I'll probably be too busy to focus on much besides my shop until the middle of December - at least, if the last three years are any indication.
   On the bright side, though Christmas prep is a lot of work, my art exhibit in Slimbridge's WWT centre is coming down on the 12th of October and everything that's left (I have no idea how many pieces have sold) will be listed on Etsy instead, so I should have a good number of unique and pre-made pieces that I can sell without the stress of having to put them together. Everything in my shop is made on-demand to save resources, but this does mean it can get time-consuming. I do try to make some of the bankable pieces like foxes in advance so that when things really hot up in December, I'm prepared. But with any luck, the exhibit pieces will help not only provide my shop with fresh items and offer customers more choice, but also reduce the stress.
   I'm also working on participating in Inktober again this year, and I'm hoping to participate in NaBloPoMo again, too. Trust me to take on more than I can handle at the busiest time of the year, but no matter!

   I'll try to update on the fitness side of things later this month, but odds are that I'll be too swamped with other things. If you're interested in the review of the DVD or a breakdown of the individual levels, just check out the original collection of posts I wrote back in May. I doubt this month will go much different to last time.



Saturday, 26 September 2015

Mental Meanderings: Book!

Prepare for a drivelling post; my train of thought got away from me so this post is a little topsy-turvey.


   So. My book is ready for printing - not distribution, just a trophy copy. It has been spell-checked and formatted.
   And...it is huge. Seriously. We're talking almost 800 pages. Before you scoff, it's fantasy, and a lot happens...but it does feel like I should have split it in two. The trouble is that I never wrote it with that possibility in mind so there's no specific point in the story where splitting it like that would work without rewriting about a third of the whole thing, which I admit I'm not keen to do. If an agent suggested it, I'd do it because revisions are only suggested if they're highly interested in taking it on, but as it is, I'll leave it be. It's a big revision, but not one an agent would be unlikely to suggest unless they weren't interested either way. And if they don't want it, I'm still thinking about self-publishing... so I may yet revise it. Having said that, a kindle or ebook version wouldn't really matter in terms of 'one book or two'.

   But either way, I do consider this a bit of a mistake, and you have to learn from them. Every time I write I consider it as more practise - even if I were to become a best-seller, my next book would always be better, either in terms of skill or just story. So, in light of the massiveness of my recent book, I'm trying to keep the option of splitting the story into two parts in the middle of my mind for the next. I'm working on the plan for it and there's already a perfect opportunity half way through where I could split it, but while I'm not going to write it as two books, if by the time I reach that point it's already at 400 pages, I'll probably do it. Otherwise I'm treating it as one story rather than one or two books.

   But that's one of the problems with splitting a story into a number of books; even for a trilogy, you need to have three beginnings and three endings. Each book has to be satisfying as a book, even if it's not satisfying as a story because obviously it won't be finished, but the reader will know that going in. But the last time I tried to write a trilogy, I wrote the first book, submitted it, it got rejected, and I abandoned it. Seriously. I have the printed version of the first book in my bookcase opposite me right now, all sad, alone and unfinished.
   My logic was simple at the time: why waste my time writing a trilogy if they don't want the first book?
   Well, that does make sense, but I did myself no favours when I submitted it to them. I submitted it as just one book; I didn't give them the story as a whole in the synopsis, only that of the first book, and an agent doesn't want to see cliff-hangers until they read the book itself. So of course it was going to be rejected; they had no idea what I was ultimately pitching to them. It could have had a rubbish ending - if it had an ending at all. There was no telling what they would be letting themselves in for.
   As such, I'm not going to think about 'books', but 'stories'. If the next story ends up as two books, I won't know that until I'm about half way through, by which point I'll be well and truly committed. Plus the story seems so exciting (at this point - you know, the 'planning and brain-storming' stage) that I don't think I'll want to give it up.

   The unfinished trilogy had potential and even my dad is disappointed that I didn't finish it. And it's too late to go back now because it was about 4 years ago that I gave up on it. I have the notes somewhere, but the idea of going backwards isn't inviting, even if I'm a little disappointed I didn't finish it. It took me 2 years - that's 2 years wasted - and I had a flick through the book just a few days ago and found myself laughing at the humour and growing immediately fond of the characters. It's a shame.
   I even looked up at Seeg at the time and said "I love my writing style" - he frowned at me, but I think I should love it! I never said it was the best in the world, only that I was happy with it, that I'm proud of it. It's my voice, my attitude; it's how I want to read books. So many voices are different. Compare Richard A. Knaak to Terry Pratchett. Both fantasy writers, and yet their voices are polar opposites.
   I don't need to feel bad for being proud of my hard work - no one should, whether it's natural talent or hard-won. It's just not something you should spout about often, I suppose.

   Ehh. Anyway, yet again I feel like I'm blathering.
   My most recent book, the one I finished months ago, the one I finished revising a couple of weeks ago, has been spell-checked and formatted and is about ready to be printed into a single trophy copy. I'll submit the first three chapters to agents when I've started actually writing my next book, which has nothing at all to do with the last. It's a new world, new people, new sciences, new threats.
   I love sciences; I love the technical side of fantasy. I love magic, but I want to know where it comes from and why John and Larry have it and why Lawrence and Billy don't. I want to know how it works, and I want to know how much it can do and, if it has the power to destroy the universe, why has no one done it? And though I've never been interested in people, I find myself drawn to social sciences, too: how people view people with magic, how people with magic view people without; hierarchy, law, respect. Things like that. It builds a deeper world and paves the way for complex stories. And it seems I like complex stories. What I wrote of my trilogy was complicated and full of mystery. The book I just finished is full of secrets, and the next is full of deception. And yes, all three of those words seem to mean the same thing, but they don't.
   Mystery - whodunnit? Secrets - what are you up to? Deception - hello, my name is Beth but it's really Jessica.
   Different levels of the same thing, and I absolutely love it.
   And villains!! I love villains. I love villains far more than heroes. Not always, but often. Sometimes they're just cooler - Naruto, Kakashi and Jiraiya are great, but the Akatsuki are awesome and I love them. I get so excited when I see them.
   Sometimes the villains are just sadder - Arthas is the best villain in Warcraft, he was driven and, ultimately, corrupted through his desire to protect. It's a sad story and even when 'we' (Tirion you kill-stealing barstool) killed him in Icecrown I cried like a baby on the cutscene. And I have every time since. Every. Single. Time.
   I love a villain you can pity. I don't subscribe to 'evil'. It doesn't exist in exclusivity. Unless the villain is the actual embodiment of evil, I won't accept it. I don't recall if Sauron was the embodiment of evil or not, but he's the closest thing that I will. Someone just being 'evil' isn't good enough.
   Humanity (elfity, dwarfity, whatever) means that there must be passion. Passion is neither exclusively positive or negative, it's just the drive that powers the individual. A need for revenge could be driven by either the love for someone they're avenging or the hatred for someone responsible, so what the hell happened to make them need such revenge? An obsession could also be brought about by past events, a lost love, a broken promise, a betrayal. It takes heart for all of this. No, a villain may not agree with something we consider sad or hurtful, and we may not agree with something they consider to be funny. The same can be said for the next five people you see in the street. The differences don't have to be drastic, it's just a different drive, different personal histories, even simply the values someone was raised with. And if someone can hate something, they can love something.

   A villain is more important than your hero. A villain is the most important detail. At the end of the day, if there's no villain there can be no hero; if there's no plot or occurrance to stop or a problem to fix, then there is no story. The villain is the root of the book, its foundation, and an 'evil' character is just pointless.
   I want a villain whose death you will mourn.
   I killed a number of characters in my last book, I shed a tear for about one in five - but the villain was in a league of his own. I needed a hug and I was shaken up for days. Yup, I certainly do get attached to my characters, but there's nothing wrong with that unless you can't bring yourself to end them. Growing too fond and being unable to let them go, that's when a problem comes in. You keep writing just to keep them alive, you can't let them die when they need to. Roleplayers suffer from the same thing, and it's something I learned through Seeg about 6 years ago and really took to heart. "You have to respect your characters enough to let them die" - that's what he said, and he was exactly right.


   I'm rambling again. I'm just excited!! I'm nervous, yes, but excited. Printing even just a personal copy of my book, the thought of submitting it in about 4 months, planning and starting a new story - it's all daunting, but it's exciting.
   So very, very exciting.



Thursday, 24 September 2015

Staycation

   Aside from overworking myself to a migraine, last week's holiday was pretty good.
   I met with Lucy twice, once she came over for a hot chocolate and a chat, and the second time we went out to Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean and then out to dinner.
   Puzzlewood was great. Supposedly it's where Tolkien based the Shire, but it's easy to say that. Though it was where they filmed the weeping angels of Doctor Who, a few episodes of Merlin and Atlantis, and it's generally a gorgeous place. I was worried that the place was going to be small and disappointing because the only pictures you ever see of the place are of just three or four very specific locations. I thought the rest of the place might be rubbish. Wrong! It was beautiful, so dense and tangled, it was amazing. It even rained while we were there, really quite hard, but we knew that before setting out and it was subsequently very quiet there because of it. The rain only started when we were half way through the forest, but being under such dense trees we were relatively untouched. It was amazing, even when we did get wet, and because the ground is so uneven the rain pools and creates streams along the paths. But the three of us agreed that it wouldn't have been half as good if it had been dry. It was quiet, it was wet, and it was a great adventure.

Seeg's excellent photo-bombing skills; I only noticed him stood there after looking back through the pictures.

   I also did a little more cooking. I already showed you my Japanese cotton cheesecake, which I made a second time and just as perfectly when my parents came back, and it tasted divine! I was so proud of myself!
   But I also made us chicken ramen, which was filling and awesome, and teriyaki chicken which was amazing. I'm making it again this week. And Seeg and I had a lovely at-home dinner date with duck and Oceans Eleven, because we're cool like that, and a dessert of brownies and chocolate ice cream which just can't be beaten.


   I had wanted to do some crafting - I had three projects I was preparing for and they just didn't happen. I ended up playing WoW and working on my book for the most part, to be honest, planning out the next story. I even wrote a short 5-page story for my main character, which is a habit I think I'd like to make a habit. By writing a short story for most of the important characters I can set them in stone and get to know them a little before I start writing the book itself, and it also gives me the opportunity to flesh out an event from their past, something important like whatever might drive them, or something lesser but still important to the character like when they met someone who becomes very important to them. I started with my main character, and he's not quite what I expected, but I'm very fond of him and his terrible ability (or lack thereof) for naming things. I admit that names are my weak point, but his skill is just awful. And I love it.

   The Taken King just came out for Destiny, too - Seeg was not impressed because Lucy and I had made plans for that day because I'd completely forgotten, but he came with us and had fun anyway, wearing his Destiny hunter hoodie to remind me of his sacrifice, no doubt. I did keep telling him he didn't have to come, but I'm glad he did. If he hadn't both Lucy and I would have ended up in the mud many times. Though he did have to put up with us singing Taylor Swift in the car on the way back. I want to dislike her, I do, but I can't help how catchy her songs are, they get ingrained into your head and you need a lobotomy to get them out!
   But I've been watching Seeg play that while I've been brain-storming and the changes they've made are good, and though we were both sceptical about Nolan North replacing Peter Dinklage as the ghost, he's actually great.
   "I wonder if Ikora gives hugs to ghosts. Ehheeeeh... Anyway, good work."
   And I also rewatched Sherlock. If anyone wants to know what I want for Christmas, it is for the BBC to get season 4 done and finished because they can't leave it on a cliff-hanger like that for two years.

   But yup, it was a simple week, but a good one. In truth, just not having to get up and look after my mum was all the vacation I needed. More freedom with food and getting up a little later was just a bonus. I feel I kind of wasted my time because I didn't do any of the crafting I had hoped to, but I did get other stuff done instead and had a day out for the first time in forever...



Wednesday, 23 September 2015

It's Not About The Weight - Type 2 Diabetes

   Mathews is back with us today with an important insight into Type 2 diabetes. Commonly linked with obesity, slender people tend to write it off as a threat. But that's not the case. Given the diets of the western world and the fact that everyone is different, some people are able to live unhealthily without looking like it - you know, those people who can 'eat anything' and not gain a pound. Well, those people may be at the greatest risk.

Because it's not about the weight.


   Let’s face it; weight is probably the main concern for anyone who decided to adopt a “healthy” lifestyle. However, this is wrong on so many levels and can even backfire. Modern society pushes us towards this anorexic figure as an ideal of a perfect female body and this can have some serious repercussions. First of all, being skinny does not mean being in shape or healthy, and these two things should always be imperative.




Metabolism is what counts
   First of all, regardless of your figure, it is the state of your metabolism that counts. This is why modern medicine has coined a colloquial term “skinny fat.” The term “skinny fat” stands to depict a person that is of normal weight in figure but has a metabolism of someone who is obese. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out just how dangerous this can be for that person’s health.

Type 2 diabetes
   As we all know, Type 2 diabetes is one of the greatest plights that obesity can cause. As metabolically obese, these people are in danger of developing Type 2 diabetes same as overweight people are. However, if they actually do develop this disease the risks of death are far greater for them.
   According to some theories the reason for this is the fact that they have to carry all that additional weight around, so they develop a layer of muscle tissue underneath that protects them. Whatever the reason might be, it is a fact that a skinny person with a Type 2 diabetes is twice more likely to suffer from a fatal outcome than an obese person is.

Testing as soon as possible
   It soon becomes clear that when it comes to your health in general, weight is not a determining factor. This being said, there are a couple of tests that every person should do, just in case. The first thing is the insulin response test and it is vital in order to determine if you suffer from any kind of diabetes or you are in risk of developing it. Next, just to stay on the safe side, you should do an NMR Lipid Particle Test which measures the size and number of cholesterol particles in your blood.
   Consider this struggle for a healthy body as a battlefield. The basic principle of strategy teaches us that knowing your enemy’s strength and the direction it is coming from is a battle half-won. This is why it is essential for you to do these tests as soon as possible, even if you have no reason to be suspicious.

What to do?
   The good news is that your options are ample. The first thing that deserves your attention is putting together a sustainable diet. Remember one thing - being on a diet does not mean that you are going to starve yourself to death. It only means that you need to modify your eating habits a bit. First of all, you need all the different nutrients you can get, which means that nothing, not even fats, should be avoided. There are some fatty acids that are essential for the proper functioning of your organism. The best and most natural way of receiving them is probably by using olive oil. Eat everything; the only thing you should be careful about is the amount.

What you drink counts too
   Contrary to common belief, diet is not only what you eat but what you drink as well. This is why you must be aware that there are some beverages that are bad for your health. The absolute best beverage is water. However, if you decide to treat yourself with an occasional juice, make sure to read the label and look for organic. Another thing that is a definite no-no is coffee. Luckily, the daily caffeine cravings you might have can be satiated with green tea.
   Being in shape of your dreams can affect your self-esteem and is therefore important, but it is still not the most important thing. This title goes to your health and it always will. Fortunately, with just a bit of care and effort you can stay healthy (and in shape). Always be cautious, test yourself regularly and make sure to lead a lifestyle to match your aspirations.



About the Author

Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life. Follow him on Twitter.



Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Over-Worked & Under-Rested

   Ohhh I wish I could say this was the first time it had happened, but it's not.
   I've worked myself to a migraine - that might not sound like much of a big deal, but I've been over-exercising and it's led to me having to take a whole week off while I've been swamped by migraines and dizziness. And yes, I've been eating right - I've been eating clean, I've not been cutting down on carbs, protein, fat or anything, and I've not been under eating, either. It's all entirely exercise-based.
   Basically, when my parents went away last week and I had the house to myself, free from any carer's duties, I decided to make the most of the freedom and exercise every evening as well as every morning - I'd do strength every other morning, and then cardio on in-between mornings, and then an extra 20 minutes of cardio in the evening. Seeg warned me it wouldn't do me any good, but I figured 5 days couldn't kill me.
   No, perhaps it wouldn't, but just one day resulted in a migraine.
   And like I said above, it's not the first time I've done this. I tried it before about a month ago, and while I got through the week with no trouble except a complete lack of energy by the end of the final day, I then got 3 migraines in 5 days, and then another after a few days' break. I had planned to take the following week off completely even before I started because I knew it would be tough, it was an experiment, and while I lost half an inch off of my waist in that week, the after-effects that followed during the rest-week were just not worth it.
   So I decided that this time I would try it again, but eat a little more and actually choose less-demanding workouts. I still planned to do strength every other morning and fill the rest with cardio - the evenings were just going to be dance or kickboxing - but I only managed one day before I couldn't go on.
   Monday the 14th I did level 1 of the Extreme Shed & Shred, and then 12 hours later I did 20 minutes of kickboxing. The next morning I did 25 minutes of Kukuwa, then I went walking around Puzzlewood with Lucy and Seeg (it was so awesome), and then, while we were at dinner, I was hit by a migraine. I was sat in the restaurant - fortunately the only time I've ever been out of the house while struck by a migraine, but since I never leave that's hardly surprising - and we'd just ordered, and suddenly my right side was blind. It lasted half an hour before the pain kicked in. Not impressed.

   I took the rest of the week off. Migraines frighten me, they're completely disabling, I have to sleep it off for 2 hours and then I still have a headache for the rest of the day that is so bad I can't look downwards. And, it seems, if I don't sleep it off I get extremely light-headed. Fortunately Lucy is simply the best friend anyone could have and she led me by the hand to the loos because I was certain I was going to fall over. I admittedly didn't confess to a migraine until we'd just about finished dessert, and even then it was only because Lucy said the words "it's not a migraine, is it?"

   So, suffice it to say, I'm quite convinced I've been over-working myself. I do think I was ill last week, though, because it took about 4 days for my muscles to stop aching and when we were walking in the forest my core was hurting a fair bit from all the balancing and uneven ground, and I'm fitter than either Seeg or Lucy, so that can't have helped.
   But even despite being over that and having had a week off, I'm suddenly finding exercise hard. Push ups are a challenge; my stamina has dropped, and while I can still use the same weight kettlebells for the moves, if I try anything else, I struggle and have to turn the weights down. Muscle memory, evidently, which means it's time to move away from kettlebells again (I'm going to just work through random JM DVDs for the rest of the month, I think).
   So everything is a challenge, and given that I've stopped losing, I'm hoping that returning to basics that I'm suddenly struggling with will give me a kick up the backside and give me some results again.

   But it does go to show how over-exercising can be damaging. By pushing myself too hard I've fallen backwards. Slow and steady doesn't always win the race, but recognising that 30 minutes of compound moves and MRT training for just 3 non-consecutive days a week is enough and you don't have to work yourself ill.
   Exercise is body damage, after all. All it does is use up energy and tear your muscles. It's only when you stop and let your body recover and repair that it starts to change, in terms of both strength and shape. It's not the act of lifting a weight that leads to lean muscle, it's when the body repairs in an attempt to make sure it can do the move better and without damaging itself next time that makes the changes you want.
   The sooner I realise that the better. It's easy to say it; it's another thing to actually absorb it.



Sunday, 13 September 2015

Japanese Cotton Cheesecake

   I am buzzing. Call me crazy, but I have never been so nervous about making a cake before. But the Japanese cotton cheesecake is renowned for being difficult, especially to make look good. It's very, very easy to make one with a cracked or domed top (and a domed top will likely end up cracking later, too), and while how it looks has little effect on how it tastes, I can't be the only one who wants a cake to look perfect, right?
   Well, this was a risk. I wasn't really making it for anything in particular, but I like to make a small cake when Lucy comes over for a chat, and since this was something I wanted to try, I figured it made sense that I try it.
   I was so nervous, though! The one thing I kept reading about it was how hard it was to get right, to have a perfect top and everything, and that, while it's easy to make one that looks awful and tastes great, I really wanted to get it right. I'm a show-off. We know this. It's just that I have little to show off.

   So made sure to read up on it, watch videos and everything, really make the effort for what is not a typical cheesecake - there's no crumby base with mascarpone on top. This is half way between a western cheesecake and a sponge cake. And it wobbles! So I had a number of fears: first that the top would crack, second that it wouldn't bake properly, third that it wouldn't come out of the pan, and fourth that, if it did, it would collapse under its own weight.
   But it didn't. Why? Well, luck, probably, but I did do some extensive reading and I found this article by i eat i shoot i post that basically outlined everything that can go wrong and how to avoid it. That's not to say that mistakes can't still pop up, as every oven is different, but I followed everything to the letter - including the immensely precise cooking times. And I feel it's important to say that, while I usually do follow instructions properly, I'm jinxed in the kitchen and it often all goes wrong regardless.


   But this time worked perfectly. Perfectly. The top bronzed beautifully without doming or cracking, the cake released from the sides of the pan exactly as they should have, the paper lining on the bottom peeled away exactly as in the video on i eat i shoot i post's article, and it is standing as strongly on its own as it did in the pan. I am so happy.

   The few Japanese cotton cheesecake pictures I've seen have all had stenciled icing sugar on top of them, and I admit that when I saw it I desperately wanted to do the same, so I bought a gorgeous baroque heart cake stencil for about £4.50 on ebay. It was about 22cm and the pan I used was a 5 inch cake tin so the heart itself was too big, but I could easily cover the whole surface in the pattern instead. I always use a 5 inch cake tin because it makes a taller cake, but also because I can mix up less cake that way. Kinder on the waistline - if cake can even be kind. But this meant that I actually had to half the recipe for the cheesecake, which was the source of another worry that it wouldn't work - though I actually think it contributed in the end to its success.
   You can find the full cheesecake recipe on a few websites including the once I've mentioned above, but I'm going to post the half-recipe I used.


Ingredients:
125g Philadelphia cream cheese
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
70g castor sugar, split into two 35gs
30g unsalted butter
50ml full fat milk
1 Tsp. lemon juice
30g cake flour
10g cornflour
pinch salt
1 tsp Vanilla extract (optional)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas mark 6
2. Line the sides of a 3 inch deep cake tin with non-stick spray, and line the base with paper
3. Melt the cream cheese in a double-boiler (cheese in a heat-proof bowl set on top of a pan of hot water) until it's smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks, then whisk in 35g sugar.
4. Warm the milk and butter in the microwave or on the stove until butter has melted, then whisk into cheese mixture.
5. Whisk in the vanilla, lemon and salt, then remove the bowl from the heat and fold in the flour and corn flour.


6. In a clean bowl, mix the egg whites at low speed until the mixture goes from foamy to very small bubbles, then slowly mix in the remaining 35g sugar. Mix until just before soft peaks - as stated on i eat i shoot i post, it's best to err on the side of underbeating than overbeating in this case, but you can see the state of the eggs at which you should stop mixing on the video, which I've linked below.
7. Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture 1/3 at a time. Don't over-mix, be gentle at this point.
8. Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin - the cake won't rise much at all, so while I was concerned that my mixture reached just 1cm from the top of the 3-inch-deep tin, it wasn't actually a problem. Give it a firm tap on the countertop to remove any air bubbles.
9. Prepare a water bath: take a pan about 1/3 bigger than your cake tin (your cake tin should fit in it with about 5cm or so between the edge of it and the edge of the larger pan), set a folded towel in the bottom to ensure that there's always water beneath the cake pan, and fill with warm water - ideally the water from your double boiler, if you still have it - then place your filled cake pan on top. The water should reach about 1-2cm up the outside of your cake tin.


10. Set the whole thing in the lowest part of your oven for 18 minutes. Turn the oven down to 160 C/325 F/Gas mark 3 for another 12 minutes, then turn the heat off don't open the door and leave the cheesecake in the closed oven for another 30 minutes. Once those last 30 minutes are up, open the door slightly but don't take anything out.
11. De-pan while it's still warm - you can do this as soon as you've taken it out of the oven. (This is also in the below video) To de-pan, remove the cake tin from the water and give it good jiggle to loosen the sides. Run a knife around the edges if you feel you must - I did, but I don't actually know if it was necessary. Turn it upside down onto another pan, plate etc, and give the bottom a firm tap. Slowly lift the tin. You don't want the cake to suddenly slide out or it might collapse under its own weight, which is what I thought would happen. Lift the pan or plate you de-panned it into and then take whatever you want to set your cake on - a board, a plate, a cake stand. Position it against the bottom of the cake, but don't press too hard, then flip it upside down. Ta da.

   The cheesecake should be left to set in the fridge for 4 hours or, ideally, overnight, to allow the flavours to mature. Unfortunately, in this time it can wrinkle. Your cake looks at its best when it's just out of the oven, as shown in all of my pictures, but to keep it from wrinkling you can glaze the top with glazing gel or apricot preserve, as detailed on the original article. I chose not to do this because I actually kind of wanted to see how badly it would wrinkle, and because I wanted to stencil it for the pictures. So I took a decided risk not to glaze it.


   As you can see, there is some slight shrinkage, but it's not as bad as it was made out to be, and the powdered sugar detracts from it a lot to make it far less noticable. So, to be honest, stenciling after it had wrinkled would have been better as the design wouldn't have moved with it, but I still think it's perfectly presentable!

   Check out the original post for the full sized recipe and for all the information you could possibly want on the why's, how's and anything in between for all these steps, including strange oven temperatures, the need for a water bath, and so on. You'll also probably notice that cream of tartar is in the original recipe for the egg whites, but I couldn't get any in time so I omitted it. It was risky, but nothing bad seemed to have come from it, which is why I didn't add it into the recipe I posted above. Instead I shared with you every single step I took because, for someone jinxed in the kitchen, this simply worked.







Saturday, 12 September 2015

It's Finished (+ irrelevant 20% celebratory sale)

   Well...it's done. It feels sort of surreal, to be honest. After two and a half years of writing, and then having spent the last six weeks doing nothing but revising it, my book is finally finished. It's been written, revised, edited, revised, edited again and so on and so on, and it's been a long and tiresome job, but it's ready for submission to agencies.

   I can't help thinking that this post is already feeling underwhelming, but I also don't really know how to feel. You know how when you reach the end of a TV show you loved, an anime, or a book series, and then you just sort of potter about wondering what to do with your life now? That's how this feels. For almost three years I've put a lot of energy and emotion into people who admittedly never existed; I've created their world, their perils, relationships of all kinds, and now it's all done I'm left feeling a little empty.
   I had expected to finish a lot sooner than I did. For some reason I thought I'd be done when Dragon Age Inquisition came out (almost a year ago!), but I was way off. But because of that I did a lot of work planning out my next book - new world, new people, new sciences, new everything - in preparation to have something to move on to right away, and that's certainly lessening the blow.

   And I know I said I wasn't going to start revising the book at all until September when all the kiddies went back to school, but I sort of...started...early. I started work on the first three chapters around the end of July to get them polished up first, thinking that I'd do just that and then use August, the noisiest month of the year, to do other things for my shop in prep for Christmas, but that didn't happen. I just kept reading, kept tweaking, and I was enjoying it so I didn't really want to stop. But I didn't need to.
   The summer in Bristol has been pretty poor; it's rained almost constantly so there's been no one outside all through the school holidays - no teenagers playing loud and awful music, no kids screaming, no one swearing in the middle of the night acting like they're not in a domestic area because there are a few trees around them. And while I do admit I feel guilty for being so happy about how bad the summer was, I wouldn't have changed it. I was able to work without stopping once, which meant I could ensure that my book made sense, that it flowed, that I didn't forget information (necessary for ensuring it is actually in the book and not something I forgot to mention because it's 'so obvious' to me, as the writer), and that it generally unfolded the way I wanted it to. And I was concerned at several points through writing the book that it was dragging out and taking too long, but upon reading it, it's actually perfect.

   And when I say I spent 6 weeks doing nothing but working on my book, I really do mean it. I would get up, have my breakfast, do my exercise, shower, and then my face would be buried in my laptop screen until half past 4 in the evening when I'd get the dinner on, and then I'd be glued to it again from 7 until 11pm, and which point Seeg and I would watch Naruto for 40 minutes and then go to bed. And the next day would repeat the same way. Every day. For 6 weeks. Except Sundays when I don't exercise, so I just started working on it sooner.
   And I loved it. Seeg didn't, but he was playing Destiny so he's been busy anyway.

   And, to top it all off, my parents have a caravan booked up as of this Saturday, so Seeg and I  have a staycation, a week free of being a carer, and I've not got a book to revise to eat up all of that time. So hello crafting, binge-watching TV, listening to music outside of yoga, and playing a bucket load of video games.

   I'm going to go to Lulu and get a copy printed for myself when I can afford it, and I'm currently already working on the synopsis for agency submissions. That's the last piece of work I have to do that's related to the story specifically, so once I've got my 1-1.5 page synopsis done and dusted (which is super duper important so this could take another couple of weeks) I'll finally be free to turn my attention away and onto my next book while writing my cover letter, query letter, bio and all the information an agent wants - nothing more, nothing less. 
   But I don't plan on submitting it yet. By the time all the technical stuff is done I think the post will start getting clogged for Christmas and I don't want to risk it getting lost, and it's not wise to submit it immediately anyway in case you need to tweak things after you've let it simmer for a bit. So I doubt I'll be submitting it annywhere until January, and it will take a few months before I know if anyone's interested in taking it on. And if they're not...I'm still thinking about self-publishing. If I'm rejected by everyone then by self-publishing, I could potentially help future submissions as they'd have some kind of figures and reader reviews to base my work on, even if they're not great. It would be better than nothing at all. But that's another scary prospect, sticking myself in the public eye without the guidance of a professional.

   But I'm never going to get anywhere without taking risks.

   Either way, you can bet I'll let you all know when I get my copy of the book, and when I start submitting and pretty much any information at all. And, if I self-publish, when it will be available.


Anyway, in celebration, though it may seem random, I'm having a small sale in my shop!
So until September 17th, use the code ITSFINISHED for 20% off of everything.




Friday, 11 September 2015

Kettlercise For Women Vol 1 DVD Review

Price: £15/ $20
Length: 20 & 35 minute workouts
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Beginners - Advanced
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 5 weeks of use.


   Kettlebells are finally getting the attention they deserve. The unique shape and weight-distribution of these under-appreciated pieces of kit mean that you can do more with them than dumbbells or barbells. There are a great many exercises that are only brought to their full potential with these pieces of kit due to the explosive nature of the movements and the manner in which the weight is handled.
   Metabolic Training, or MRT, is the use of strength-focused compound movements that increase the heartrate, making the workout both strength and cardio. And while cardio is essential for fat-burning, building lean muscle is key to keeping that fat off - not to mention the after-burn effect, where your body continuously burns calories for hours after your workout as it repairs the muscle tissue and generally recovers.
   Compound movements are simply movements that aren't isolated to one specific muscle group. Squats isolate the legs and glutes; bicep curls isolate the biceps. However, if you perform both a squat and bicep curl together, you utilise your legs, glutes, biceps and a few other muscles all at the same time to both complete the moves as well as stabilise yourself. This means you work more muscles, burn more calories, and get your heartrate up more effectively in a lot less time. Rather than 30 seconds of bicep curls followed by 30 seconds of squats, you do 30 seconds of both together. All muscles are used, the extra exertion increases heartrate, and you're done sooner. Simple!
   And kettlebells are one of the best MRT tools you can use.

Overview
   I'd seen Kettlercise advertised in Women's Fitness magazine for about a year and a half before I decided to try it. It claimed to give great results, but I've always been sceptical, plus with all the black and orange, I thought it looked like it took itself too seriously, and that put me off. But I decided to try it anyway because I love kettlebells and I only had one other kettlebell DVD, and while it's a damned good one, a little variety never hurts.
   Kettlercise For Women is a 2-disc DVD set. The first disc goes over individual moves, teaching you their function and form so that time isn't wasted in the workout itself.
   The second disc features three workouts - the Full Body Workout, 8 Minute Abs and Express program. All of them require kettlebells, but the weight depends entirely on what you're comfortable with. They can each be completed with 2kg if that is your limit, or even 8kg if you're badass enough. I am not; I stick comfortably between 4kg and 6kg, keeping my 8kg for swings.
   Each workout starts with a decent warm up of dynamic stretches that raise the heartrate and also avoid static stretches which can hinder and pull cold muscles. They each finish with a cool down of deep static stretches, and when the instructor says it's the best part of the workout, she's not wrong. Each movement of the workout lasts for one minute, or for 30 seconds if you have to alternate sides, and there's a small clock in the top right corner that counts you down - it never stops moving and neither do you, transitioning from one move to the next without rest, but the workout is designed in a way that lets exhausted muscles recover while working others before returning to them again.
   I was a little dubious after reading reviews on Amazon about miserable instructors, but while the two women in the background barely crack a smile, looking miserable or serious for the most part, the camera barely lingers on them in particular, and the instructor herself is perfect. She's cheerful but not in an annoying way, but neither is she too tough. She's the perfect balance, and she smiles more than enough for the others. So don't let such comments put you off!

Express Program
   The Express Program is a 20-minute workout with an additional 5 minutes for warm up and 5 minutes for cool down, so the whole section lasts for 30 minutes. The first 15 minutes are spent on full-body moves and the final 5 minutes on abs specifically, and it's a tough workout.
   Personally I always feel I can do more in the express program than I'm asked, so on days when I feel like I can give more, I make every move a compound move. I sink into a sumo squat on the bicep curls; I rise in and out of a sumo squat with tricep extensions, I sink into crescent on rows and shoulder presses. However, the workout itself is more than enough, but as someone with a little more experience with such things, I knew I could modify and I knew how to do so safely.
   Your heartrate will rise quickly and you'll really feel the workout at the end, even after just 20 minutes. Comparing it to the Full Body workout, it doesn't feel like a lesser workout. It just doesn't take as long, so if you've not got the time to spare, you can still get in a killer workout.


Full Program
   The Full Body Program is a 35-minute workout with an additional 10 minutes for warm up and 5 minutes for cool down. It's not necessarily more intense than the express program, but as it lasts longer you will feel it all sooner, you'll do more moves, reach more muscles, work muscles more and generally burn more calories, but it's only the harder workout in terms of stamina. Just like the Express Program, the final 5-7 minutes are ab-specific moves.
   I never modify the moves on this workout, I prefer to do them as they're presented because the extra 15 minutes will kill you more than you think. By the end of the full program, I'm more than tired enough, I feel the workout all over, and I'm dripping with sweat. I feel it all day, and it's awesome. I choose to use this workout if I have more time or feel like I have more to give, but, as I said above, even comparing the full program to the express program, neither of them is a lesser workout than the other, it's just that one takes longer.


Summary
   Kettlercise for Women is amazing. I was concerned that it looked like it took itself too seriously and that reviews on Amazon suggested miserable instructors, but neither are further from the truth. The instructor is perfect, neither too cheerful nor too mean, and the backdrop is light and not at all distracting. The clock in the top right corner can be a bit annoying if you're struggling but it can also help you push a little harder. It also makes it apparent just how much work you're doing as the clock doesn't stop for a moment, and neither do you.
   The movements are full-body, it increases your heartrate brilliantly, giving the whole strength workout a cardio edge, as kettlebells should be, and it's a good place to start if you're new to kettlebells.
   There is a second volume which I will be getting, and will review once I've used it.



Monday, 7 September 2015

Kukuwa African Dance Workout DVD Review

Price: £17/ $25
Length: 2x 30 minute workouts
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Beginners - Advanced
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 4 weeks of use.


   It's rare for me to review a dance DVD. I've mostly just covered 10 Minute Solution DVDs in the past because I believe they should be a staple part of most home workouts. They consist of 5 different 10-minute dance routines which are effective fat-burners for beginners, but even when you've outlevelled the routines and are used to far more difficult things like I am, they are still fantastic to use for 10-20 minutes before your main workout as a fun warm-up. They really help to focus your mind and build up some enthusiasm. I can't count the number of times I've been too tired to want to jump into push ups and jumping jacks right away, but after one dance routine I have a big grin on my face and I'm more than ready to get on with the real work. Plus, by using them as warm-ups before using the warm-up on my main workout DVD for the month, I get the absolute most out of my main workout.

   So, for me to review a dance DVD as a full workout DVD, and then use it as such, means that the DVD is a pretty big deal.
   Kukuwa is an innovative dance workout DVD by Kukuwa Nuamah, who was born and raised in Ghana West Africa, and she has some of the best enthusiasm I've ever seen. The two workouts are made up of a number of different routines to different tracks and they're so incredibly fun! I enjoy dance workouts, but Kukuwa presented something on a whole new level to what I was used to, and quite a bit more fun. There are no sexy moves, they're just big, fun and bouncy, and they're far, far more effective because of it. Your whole body is constantly moving, from your head to your feet, quite literally, and with it you'll build up an incredible sweat as well as a giant grin!

Overview
   The DVD consists of two workouts, both 30 minutes long - intermediate and advanced - and they each are broken into six 5-minute dances that change with each track. Each new track is a new 'chapter' on the DVD, however, which makes it really easy to repeat or skip certain routines. They have a really strong African vibe, just as you would both expect and want from a DVD like this, and the music is really wonderfully high-energy, just like the dances.
   My other dance workouts are hip hop so the movements are full-body but they're paced out and don't really get your heart pumping that much. They're more for show than for effective fat-melting. But Kukuwa is seriously high-energy with a lot of jumping steps and really big arms which keeps your heartrate up and really burns fat. It's also non-stop. Seriously. If you need to stop for a breather it's easy to jump back into whenever you're ready, but you won't find Kukuwa or any of her enthusiastic back-up dancers taking a break. And in truth, you wouldn't want to stop anyway.


Difficulty of Moves
   I don't use dance DVDs like I use other workout DVDs. This DVD has two 30-minute workouts, but if I set out to use the DVD for 30 minutes, I may well only cover two or three routines, especially when I first started using the DVD. This is usually because it takes a while for me to learn the dance routines so I go over one routine a few times until I get the moves. It's difficult to get the most out of a dance workout if you're struggling to understand the moves, and while the main purpose is to simply keep moving, it can get frustrating. So I learned early on when using dance workout DVDs not to try to learn them all at once. Take it one at a time, and only once I've got the first routine down will I try out another.
   But Kukuwa's dances are not as showy as my other dance workout DVDs, and so the moves are much simpler and easier to grasp, and because of that, it doesn't take long to learn them at all. There is an 'instruction' section for both the intermediate and advanced workouts which is a brief breakdown of each routine, but I didn't use it. Instead I jumped right into the workout, though I fully expected to have to check out the instruction, but I actually didn't need it. The moves are that simple - I got them within two run-throughs of each routine.
   But just because they're not showy doesn't mean they're not effective. Because they're simple, you can really throw yourself into it without having to worry about getting it right or wrong, and, as I said, the moves have big arms, big legs, and your head even moves around and gets involved to make it seriously full-body and high-impact. It really is the perfect dance workout in this regard.
   But the DVD doesn't get stale - at least, not for me. Like I said above, I don't use dance DVDs like other workout DVDs, instead I will use one or two dance routines from the selection, learn them, enjoy them, grow tired of them and then move on to a third routine. But when it came to using Kukuwa even for a full month, I hadn't actually completed the 30-minute intermediate workout simply because I was enjoying the first few routines so much that I didn't wear them out very quickly! I spent the first week using the DVD for 30 minutes, but in that time I ran through routine 1 and 2 three times each, and in the second week I learned the third and did routines 1, 2 and 3 twice each. The dances are so much fun that 5 minutes isn't long enough for each routine, so rather than groaning in boredom of the idea of doing the routine over again and going back to the beginning just to make the DVD last longer, I groan that it's over too soon and eagerly rewind it to do it again. And even just working through two routines three times each is a lot of fun.
   Out of the Intermediate workout, my favourite routine is the fifth, and of the advanced, it's the second.


Difference in Difficulty
   After completing the intermediate workout and finding it inducing a more than amazing sweat, I decided I'd try the advanced version anyway. "How hard can it be?" I thought. Intermediate was already quite high-impact, how can the dancing get tougher?
   Well, it did. The moves became even bigger, the songs last a little longer, and, in truth, the enjoyment grew so you don't notice any of that until you've finished. It's insane.
   So while the dances are all high impact, there is a difference in difficulty and you will notice it as soon as you use the advanced workout.
   My only issue with the DVD is that, during the advanced workout, there are points where the camera doesn't actually show you the legs for the whole first run-through of a move, which, obviously, makes it hard to do it. However, stick with it, because you run through each circuit several times and you will see the move. In the mean time, remind yourself that, as it's exercise, you need to keep moving, so, when in doubt, just jump from foot to foot with the music instead. You'll keep your heartrate up and the frustration will also decrease if just because you're still moving. Once you've used the DVD once - just once - you will have learned the moves. And workout DVDs were never designed to be used just once.

Quality
   This isn't something I usually concern myself with on these reviews because they're usually high-end DVDs, but Kukuwa is an independant production and after having read one review on the US Amazon that complains about quality, I felt the need to mention it.
   Camera quality is perfect, aside from the occasional shot that conceals the moves, as mentioned above. The backdrop is not distracting at all, and is very bright with natural light, lots of plants and the dancers are in colour. It looks fabulous and does nothing but encourage you without distracting you. The instructor is also perfect, she's energetic and enthusiastic and she does a good job guiding you through it. The music is also loud enough - not too high, not too low, and sounds amazing.
   The DVD is region 0 only, I believe, but in the UK, it plays perfectly on my Xbox 360, and I think it may do the same on newer DVD players (mine is about 13 years old).

Summary
   Kukuwa Dance Workout is a seriously enjoyable, high-energy cardio workout with a really unique African element. It's so much fun to do and you can use all the space you have available. If you don't have as much room as the dancers do, it's no trouble because the movements tend to move forwards and backwards then side to side, but unlike some other DVDs, the moves flow from one another but the direction you finish one in doesn't affect your starting position from the next.
   The big arms, hopping legs and strong, core-based hip movements really make sure your whole body is constantly in motion to the maximum, and that really helps to melt the fat away and work up a satisfying sweat. But the movements are also incredibly fun, quick to learn, and there are only a few of them for each routine so they don't require much thinking once you've grasped them, so it's easy to just keep with the flow, which makes it even easier to keep your heartrate up. The only reason you'd have to stop is if you're exhausted.
   The DVD delivered exactly what I hoped it would: a unique, African-styled dance routine that was high-energy and enjoyable. I'm not sure that I believe the claims of burning up to 1000 calories, but I have no way of proving it personally, and I will say that this dance workout DVD certainly is more effective than most, including Zumba, and the enjoyment factor keeps it from feeling like work and keeps you coming back for more. I absolutely love this DVD, it's a valid workout all on its own, but it's also great to do after resistance training - following up a resistance or strength workout with cardio is proven to be one of the best ways of losing weight.

   Buy this DVD and shake your boomsey. Or, better still, find a class!



Sunday, 6 September 2015

Kettlercise For Women - 5 Weeks Later

   Well, I have to admit that time has gotten away from me. I've been using Kettlercise For Women for 5 weeks now, and while September started on a Tuesday, meaning I would usually have started a new workout on Monday the 31st, I didn't. I didn't even think about it, I just kept using Kettlercise.
   And, what's more, I doubt I'll be doing a new workout this month. Given that it's already the 5th of September and I've not given it a moment of thought, I've not got anything new to use. Why? Because I've been so hung up on my book that, for the past five weeks, I've given nothing else any of my time. My days have consisted of getting up, checking on mum, doing my exercise and then sitting in the living room with her, reading over my book. Every. Single. Day. And I've been loving every minute of it. My exercise hasn't suffered and neither have my duties to my family, but once my exercise is done for the day, it entirely leaves my head.
   In truth, Kettlercise was unexpectedly good, and I'm actually still not that well-acquainted with the routines even after 5 weeks of use - I'm still struggling with it, so I think using it for the remainder of September is a good idea, as long as I swap around the in-between days.

   As promised, I did start using the full program, but that was poorly advertised. The 'express' program has a 5 minute warm up, 20 minute workout and 5 minute cool down - both are bang-on with dynamic stretches in the warm up and static stretches in the cool down, and the workout itself is good, though I did find that too many of the moves were low-impact so I modified them to make them compound rather than isolated (adding a squat into the over head presses, for example, rather than just standing there and pressing).
   The 'full' workout, however, was a 10 minute warm up, 35 minute workout and 5 minute cool down. The warm up, again, consists of dynamic stretches, and the cool down of static, but I was led to believe that it was going to be 60 minutes total, with about 45 minutes of work. Now, don't misunderstand me, when I finished that 35 minute workout my god did I feel it, so if it had been longer it would have been too much, but I was misled. The full program also has a few isolated moves, but I didn't modify those because I was expecting 45 minutes of hard work. Even then, though, I was still knackered and feeling it for 2 days, so that was awesome.


   The DVD is great, both workouts are great, and I choose which I use depending on time and energy, but I always modify the express program to constantly engage my legs so I get more out of it, so they end up being equal work, really. I really do recommend it! And I'm quite content to keep using it.
   I was alternating it with yoga because I was concerned that I was actually overworking myself - turns out I was, but more on that in another post - and I actually had one day in the middle of each week off of exercise, or deliberately simple yoga, as additional recovery. And I have to say, after having slowed down but still ensuring I got 3 great workouts in every week (non-consecutive days of Kettlercise), I actually feel renewed and raring to go! My enthusiasm had dropped over the last couple of months and it was all starting to feel like a chore, but now I'm back to how I used to be and quite excited about it all.



   All in all, this month was great, and while I'll be adding a little more cardio in again, I'm still going to make sure I take the time to rest and, if I start showing signs of overwork - trouble sleeping, irritability, forgetfulness etc - I'm going to force myself to take a step back. I've gotten it into my head that if I go 2 consecutive days without exercise I'm going to gain everything back again, and there's no good reason for that to have gotten into my head at all. It's just a paranoia about undoing my hard work, which is just stupid. Unless I stuff my face silly and don't move for a month, that won't happen.
   And consider this notice of September's workout, too :P I think I'll revisit some old routines throughout the month - maybe Kickbox Fusion, Shaolin Warrior Workout, Irish Dance Masterclass; these are the three I've wanted to come back to for some time now, so if I've not committed to anything in particular this month, I won't feel like I can't give them another go.


   Also, Seeg and I have been rewatching Naruto right from the beginning, and it seems I've taken on Abarame Shino's habit of saying 'why?' before explaining things. Worse still, I've not even been saying 'why' in English, I've been saying it in Japanese. Oh dear, I'm one of 'those' anime fans. If I start wearing cat ears and saying 'kawaii' someone will have to shoot me.



Friday, 4 September 2015

Sweet Pizza Doughnut Dessert

   I'm at a bit of a loss for what to call this. Doughnut pizza? Doughnut cake? Well, in short, it's doughnut, but neither as rings, holes or balls, and it's baked not fried. So it's the lesser of two evils, but still not exactly healthy.
   It was something I've wanted to make for a long while, but things kept getting in the way and, as I'm just working my way off of a plateau I seem to have over-worked myself onto, I've been keeping a close eye on sweets and spacing them out as far apart as I can. So I only managed to make this yesterday afternoon. A final taste of summer, I suppose!

   My initial intention was a sweet pizza. I was planning to make a healthy one from scratch but knew the recipe would yield more than I needed, so I looked up what to do with it and sweet pizzas came up - namely pizza dough with a sweet or neutral sauce and sliced fruit.
   I had my heart set on it, but I made adjustments to the pizza dough and those adjustments actually made a 'sweet pizza' a little less viable, but I made the perfect amount for the pizza, anyway. There was nothing left over.
   So I started thinking about it and looking up pizza dough recipes that would only make a small pizza so I could use it for a dessert, but in the end I just wasn't happy with the idea of a bread. I'm sure it's lovely, but as it's so difficult to make soft, airy dough at home, it would have come out thin and crispy. I had my heart set on something doughy.
   I was lying in bed a few nights later and it occurred to me: a sweet, doughy base...a dough nut. It's virtually the definition of 'sweet dough'!
   So I dug up the video recipe I'd used to make my glittery doughnuts and gathered up ingredients. I wanted it to be clean, but after past experiments, I just don't like using coconut oil in baked goods. The coconut flavour doesn't seem to come out very well in savoury, but as neither myself nor Seeg like coconut, that's a good thing, but any time I used it in a cake, all I could taste was coconut. So I used standard butter instead.
   I did use unrefined caster sugar and organic flour, but at the end of the day, it was a basic doughnut recipe. Having said that, though, since I made it in my kitchen rather than buying the dough pre-packaged, it was already a lot cleaner than it could have been.

   I made the mix the same way I would had I been making doughnuts, but rather than form it into rings with either a cutter or a doughnut pan, I left it as it was, dropped it onto a baking sheet lined with lightly floured parchment, and tossed it in the oven.
   The topping is also really simple, it's a while chocolate ganache, but I used Greek yoghurt instead of cream. It really shocked me how good it was - I don't mean to toot my own horn, but it was absolutely amazing for so simple a thing, and I was actually worried it wouldn't work out.
   I finished it off with some black berries, then added a few smaller berries to serve, and that was that! The base was delicious - just the right sweetness and nice, soft and doughy. The ganache set wonderfully and the yoguhrt and white chocolate complemented eachother amazingly, and the fruit added a burst of natural sweetness. I also added enough berries to the portion afterwards to get everyone 1 of their 5 a day. Yay!




You will need:
For the doughnut:
1/2 cup unrefined castor sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup of milk
50g melted unsalted butter
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
For the ganache:
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt, room temperature (not Greek-style)
150g white chocolate
Fruit - fresh or thawed freshly-frozen - to top.

Method:
1. Mix the egg, sugar, vanilla and melted butter in a bowl until combined.
2. Add the baking powder, milk and sieve in the flour, then mix until it forms a wet dough.
3. Cover the bowl with cling film and set in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 and line a baking tray with parchment or grease-proof paper, sprinkling a little bit of flour over it for good measure.
5. After 30 minutes in the fridge, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it down. It'll probably stick to your hands initially.
6. Drop the dough onto the parchment and shape it into a circle or oval with your hands - I've always found that an oval works better as a desert as it looks less pizza-like and so invites less suspicion from sceptical boyfriends.
7. Bake for 20 minutes, then let cool.
8. Now to make the ganache! In a double boiler (pan of water on the hob with a heat-proof bowl set on top of it), melt the chocolate. White chocolate burns easily, so don't walk away from it. Keep stirring. This prevents the chocolate from staying in one place and burning, and it also causes it all to melt a lot quicker.
9. Add the Greek yoghurt and mix in a mixer or with a handheld mixer until combined. Resist the urge to stick your finger in it.
10. Once the doughnut base has cooled, cover in the ganache like you would sauce over a pizza.
11. Take your fruit or other toppings and arrange it on top. 1 of your 5 a day is typically 80g of fruit, but that's not always the case with everything. The NHS has a great list of what constitutes 1 of your 5 a day and it sits at the top of my bookmarks. If ever I'm uncertain, I just open it up, hit ctrl-f and type the fruit or veg I'm looking for.
   Try to get a 5-a-day serving of fruit onto each portion of the pizza - small fruits like blueberries might be easier to do that with than large fruit, as a mix of red berries would look quite attractive even if it was heaped on. I chose to go more minimal and spread blackberries across mine, then served smaller berries on the plate beside it.




   This sweet pizza was divine. Yes, I used real sugar, yes, I used plain flour, and yes, I used butter, but there are only so many substitutions you can make in baking and I wanted this to be delicious. So I used unrefined sugar because it was the cleanest real sugar I could get. There's nothing wrong with an egg, there's little wrong with plain flour unless it's been bleached to high hell, and while butter isn't great in large quantities, even butter has nutritional value. Once in a while, baking with basic ingredients like these won't do you any harm.
   And while I don't like to use fat-free yoghurt, the only real Greek yoghurt I can seem to find is FAGE Total 0%, but at least this provided a good amount of extra protein and other nutrients that cream would not have, and as it was fat-free, the butter in the doughnut isn't as bad.
   Having said that, I did use a whole Milky Bar. And I'm not even sorry.
   The fruit was enough to qualify as 1 of my 5 a day, so I ended up getting more good out of this than I expected, and as it followed a healthy, wholesome dinner and was my first taste of sugar for a week, who the hell cares if it was naughty? I don't.