Thursday 27 February 2014

Raspberry Ketone: 4 Weeks Later

Product Rating: ★★★★☆    Personal Results Rating: ★★☆☆☆

   Well, I've been taking Raspberry Ketone for the past month. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I began, or at least I didn't want to expect too much. I've always been extremely sceptical about the effectiveness and even safety of taking supplements, but I have learned that, generally, the products are safe if they're from reliable sources and are taken exactly as instructed. The bottle said to take no more than 2 capsules a day, and even when I was curious and had a 'what's the worst that could happen?' moment, I didn't exceed that amount.
   The thing with these kinds of things, as I said when I started, is that they're different for everyone, and they also depend on how you conduct yourself while taking them. There is no such thing as a quick fix, especially where weightloss is involved, and in that case you also don't want one. The quicker you lose the weight, the easier it'll be to gain back. Losing weight gradually and steadily is the key to keeping it off.

   Unfortunately I don't have much of a verdict to deliver on raspberry ketone. I worked out harder and ate better this month than usual because I wanted the capsules to work, which lends itself to the end results. I have lost weight, and more weight than usual but only by a little bit. But because I did so well in regards to exercise and eating, I don't know how much good the capsules themselves actually did, but I do know for a fact they wouldn't have done a thing if I'd just sat down and not bothered working out this month. This is something that some people don't realise: supplements are aids, they're not solutions. None of these kinds of things work at all if you don't also exercise and eat properly while using them, which is part of the reason that they have such mixed reviews.
   So, while I'm not at all convinced that the raspberry ketone had any direct impact on my weightloss, I can say that it did have an indirect one. I wouldn't have worked out as hard or eaten as well as I did this month if I wasn't taking them. Because I was taking these things, I was far more aware of what and when I ate, and how long and at what intensity I exercised, because I had no idea if it was going to make me ill or do some kind of harm (you never know), and if I was going to risk that, I was going to do everything properly. Plus, y'know, it would have been a waste of money if I didn't.

   So, February's verdict is neutral. The psychological effect the capsules had on me was worth the time and the money, and I'm pleased to say that I had no kind of adverse reaction to them at all. I still have about 15 days of capsules left, so I'm going to continue to take them, but during the last 10 days I'm going to drop it down to 1 a day instead of 2, just to ween off of them. I highly doubt there are any addictive side effects, but rather I'm concerned that if they are doing my body good, my body might suddenly start complaining if I outright stop taking them.

   I'd suggest, if you're thinking about it, just try it. Reviews are mixed - some people say it's a load of rubbish, while others will genuinely swear by it. Whether the people who swear by it were under the same psychological effect I was (ie a placebo effect), and those who say it's rubbish just took them and made no other effort, I don't know. There are also dieticians amongst these reviewers, and even among them no single answer can be agreed upon. I'd say, as long as you're not allergic to anything, pregnant or any of the usual restrictions, try them. Real Nutrition Co still has the introductory offer of 90 Capsules for £4.99 instead of £15 (add a bottle of 90 to your cart and use the code 'FREE' at checkout) but I don't think it's going to last much longer. I also realise that that offer makes them seem cheap and even dangerous but they're not. Real Nutrition Co are an amazing and honestly reliable company, and occasionally they do have some pretty extreme sales, though it's uncommon. Most products they sell are really very expensive, and all of them are amazing quality. I swear by their whey protein shakes after strength training. Vanilla Cream = yum.

   I am still considering Real Nutrition Co's Lean-R8, but I'm not too keen on the idea of taking a hundred different supplements at the same time, or one straight after another. I'll get myself some while I can still get them in their introductory sale and keep them for a few months. Though, in the sale, you can only get a bottle of 30 capsules in that offer; you have to pay full price for the 120 capsule bottle but 30 is a perfectly reasonable amount for a trial run to be honest. Better to start off small rather than assuming it's going to work and then ending up with loads you're not going to use.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

KeepCup Review

   I recently came across the product KeepCup, and desperately wanted to share it with you. I know it's not the kind of thing I'd usually look at since I neither go out any place or drink coffee, but it was the colours that really grasped my attention initially - which, I might add, are customisable.
   KeepCups are Australian products - designed in and made in Australia. They're re-usable eco coffee cups. The idea is that you take your cup out with you (I'd suggest buying two so that you always have one in your bag while your other is on the draining board at home by the sink), and when you stop off for a coffee/chocolate/tea/other beverage, instead of using a paper cup with a plastic lid that you're going to throw out once used, you hand your KeepCup over instead.

   Whenever I get a hot chocolate, be it to go or to drink in-house, the cup never seems reliable and the lid comes off all too easily, and the cup is impossible to hold because it doesn't insulate the liquid at all. KeepCups, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. The lid is secure - very secure (read below to see how secure) - and it has an arm on the lid that plugs into the drinking spout to keep your empty cup empty, or to ensure that your drink doesn't spill out if you happen to be getting into a car or on a bicycle before finishing it, and when you are using it, there's a little hollow dip beside the mouth of the cup that you can plug your arm into to stop it from moving around while you're drinking - not that it does move about while you're drinking, mind you. It's very comfortable to hold even with freshly boiled water inside, and in the winter is quite pleasant to hold, too.
   And if you need to know just how secure the lid is, I'll tell you what I use mine for when it's not for chocolate to go: I use it for my post-workout shakes. I have a big bottle for my shakes but it's too big and leads me to put too much water in (I like to guesstimate a lot, and when I just finished 40 minutes of weights ten minutes ago, my hands are shaking considerably and I could care less about water measurements). This KeepCup, however, is the perfect size, purposely purchased as such, and when I put the water in, then the powder, put the lid on and close the arm, I can shake it vigorously to my heart's content with no splashing and no loosening of the lid or arm. I was doing it carefully at first, just in case, but eventually stopped worrying, and I've had no problems with it even after five uses of shakes.

   These KeepCups are available in 4, 6, 8, 12 and 16oz sizes, meaning you can get exactly the right size cup for your coffees, chocolates, or post-workout shakes! They're amazing. You can also get them in pre-defined colour combinations, some of which use exclusive colours, or you can put your own together, though the colours available for those are limited. They're all interchangable, though; all lids will fit on all cup sizes. The cup sizes are varied by height, not diameter, so if you buy two cups in very different colours, you can rearrange the bands, lids and arms onto either cup, which is awesome.

   KeepCup have gathered some surprising facts about throw-away cups, and have given you many reasons to buy their products. To be honest, after reading just three randomly picked facts from the list, I feel better and better about owning one of these cups. If you get a lot of coffees to go, I seriously urge you to get one. It doesn't make anything taste any different because it's not lined with anything silly, and it's safe to handle.
   They ship worldwide, and for the UK it took 3-5 days. The USA is also looking at the same time frame. It's really quite amazing - shipping is what usually puts me off of things, but look at this comparison: delivery to the UK is 3-5 days, £3.50. Delivery to the USA is £4.50 and still 3-5 days. Honestly, the shipping is no reason to put anyone off, especially if more than one cup is bought.

   I really do highly recommend this product, partly for its quality and convenience, and also because if everyone made one - just one - environmental change in their daily life, it really could make a difference. And this is a dead easy change to make.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Flash Sale! 40% Off!

   I'm having a bit of a financial crisis at the moment which came about rather suddenly in relation to my mother's disability and things we need to make life easier for her (and us). And so, I'm having a flash sale in order to raise the money we need.
   Using the code FLASH40 at checkout will get you 40% off of all orders of any size or value. I'd rather, of course, not be having a sale at all, but I have to draw in the attention somehow! So this sale lasts until Monday the 24th (that's tomorrow) and is valid on anything in Peaches and Pebbles.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Raspberry Ketone: 2 Weeks Later

   This month, for my resolution, I decided I'd try raspberry ketone since everyone seems to be raving about it. I decided to get my capsules from Real Nutrition Co, the same place I get my post-workout shakes, and they had a lovely introductory price, too. Forza is the brand spewed about the most in terms of raspberry ketone, but the problem there is that their raspberry ketone capsules also contain caffine and reservatol. If you're going to take supplements you don't want them laced together with all kinds of stuff. Real Nutrition Co's raspberry ketone is just that: raspberry ketone. It's high-end, too.
   The thing with supplements is, though, that they affect everyone differently depending on the way your body works. For some people they'll be amazing and help you to shed the pounds; for others they won't move a thing. I've been taking them, as instructed, twice a day every day, for two weeks so far, evenly spaced throughout the day. I've also been exercising a little harder and eating a little better than usual, no doubt because I really want them to work so I'm helping them along. Unfortuntely (and I'm sorry to have to reveal this) I have been on my 'time of the month' and that really plays havoc with the scales, so I've not got much of an idea about how well they're working. But, I think I've lost a little more weight this month than usual. This could be because I'm exercising a little harder and eating a little better than usual, and the ketone could be doing nothing at all for me. Or my period has been masking my progress and they are in fact doing more than I think. I really don't know. But I wanted to make a 2 week update.

   I'm looking at Lean-R8 thermogenic capsules by RNC as well. I'm not really sure what to make of them but I admit I'm curious. The problem with these things in my mind isn't so much money, but rather the effect they could have physically. They could stop me losing weight, they could make me ill and stop me from working out at all, they could have some other adverse affect on my health. I'm weighing up the likeliness of all of this but I might give them a go.

   If anyone in the UK is interested, at least for the moment, Real Nutrition Co has an insane offer (they do this sometimes, it's amazing) where by adding either Lean-R8 (30 capsules) or Raspberry Ketone (90 capsules) and then using the code 'FREE', you will get the item for free paying only the shipping at £4.99. You can add more to your basket, of course, or other items as well, but the discount will only give you one of the two noted above for free. I got my raspberry ketone for free. I added it to cart, put the discount code in, no other products, and it all went fine.

Do not exceed the recommended daily intake. Food supplements should not be used as a supplement for a varied and balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Keep out of the reach of children.

Suitable for Vegetarians. Not suitable for women who are breastfeeding.

Monday 17 February 2014

My Valentine's Day

   I've mentioned before that Seeg and I don't really do Valentine's Day. I don't know if it was certain personal feelings that made me want to do something for it that come around at a certain point in each month, *ahem*, or if it was because I was receiving countless orders for other people's Valentine gifts, but this year I decided I'd do something for him. I got him a present - a light up Nuka Cola Quantum from Fallout (the drink in the game glows - it's a post-apocalyptic game set in the year 2277, 200 hundred years after a nuclear fallout, but it's an alternative world so when the world 'ended' in 2077, it was what we know as the 50's - so there's awesome 50's music, architecture and design - there's even an Elvis impersonator. Either way, the drink glows because I'm pretty certain it's irradiated). I got it from Etsy, of course.

   We had decided we were going to watch a movie that night and spend some time together instead of me crafting all night and him playing games all night, which is more or less how our lives go :P We watched Catch Me If You Can - obviously an ideal choice for Valentine's Day, much like How I Met Your Mother's choice to watch Predator on Valentine's Day (I love Predator, but the first film bores the hell out of me).

   But! Surprise, surprise! Seeg got me a gift, too! He got me one of Twining's limited edition chocolate hearts with tea! So exciting because I've wanted one since I saw them - but I never said anything because they were too expensive. And it's my favourite tea, too! It's got a different look and different name, but the Butterflies in Love is still just Jasmine Pearls. It smells incredible, and tastes perfect. I love it. I've not tried the chocolate yet - I'll be honest, I don't really want to, it looks too nice! It came in a freaking giant box, which is amazing, because I love boxes. You can put things in them! And pretty boxes are great because I don't mind looking at them at all. Better that than a mess.

   I also made him a little box of biscuits - sugar cookies, royal icing (poorly outlined and flooded), heart sprinkles and edible pen. I put them in the box a little too soon so some of the icing kind of smudged. I tried this before hand with buttercream hearts, but the colour from the buttercream bled into the royal icing by the next morning so I decided to get some small heart sprinkles instead. The outcome is quite good, but the lettering looks a bit weird after editing the picture...

   It was a lovely surprise, actually doing something for Valentine's Day. I'd spent the few weeks before hand fulfilling Valentine orders and making some Valentine crafting (mostly baking, I realised) tutorials, but didn't really expect anything to come from our own, and I'm so glad it did ^^ ♥ how was everyone elses?


   I've not updated anything personal lately. In truth I've been too overwhelmed with Valentine sales to manage anything else, which is a bit sad given all the projects I've fallen behind on.

   So, first thing's first: am I well? For once, actually, no, I'm not. I'm sleeping horribly all of a sudden, feeling really quite ill and feeling downright negative, actually, and I think it might be because of my Valentine's success, even though it hit just after it all ended. I've wanted to work on a lot of other things but I keep getting pulled off of it to fulfill orders. I know, I know, "oh woe is me, I'm actually doing well!" but it can get monotonous when you're making the same thing over and over again and want to do something different. And now that I have the time to do it, I'm feeling too rubbish to do so. Instead of doing anything useful, for the past few nights I've just sat down with hot chocolate and watched Star Trek: The Next Generation all night long. And it's even better the second time around. I suspect I caught the sleeplessness and bad feelings through email from a certain someone who has been equally, or perhaps more, unfortunate.

   I've wanted to continue my writing too, but I'm having a hard time sitting down to do it, though I am eager. I also want to read again but I don't like to read something else before I've finished what I'm currently reading (keen to start The Belgariad pentology), but the trouble is that the book I'm reading now, while good, I am sick of it. It's Dawn of the Aspects (yes yes, another World of Warcraft one) and while the story is good, I have grown to loathe the writer and his inability to use normal words. It's like he sits next to a thesaurus, and coming up against an unusually long word can really destroy the immersion. Plus he only writes about dragons, and what's more it's always the really boring dragons, and I'm quite fed up with it. Christie Golden 'killed' Korialstrasz who was virtually his favourite, so now he's latched onto Kalecgos, who is just the worst. But I will battle through to the other side. I'm just fed up with books focusing on almost immortal beings of endless power, I want to read more about mortals. Forutnately the next book coming out is by Golden, doubtlessly the better writer, and focuses on Sylvanas, who is my favourite. Though on one hand you could say she's not mortal either since she's Undead, she doesn't have endless power at all. /Ramble.

   There has been good news, at least: my Lady Dinah's exclusive cat jars went up on their website this weekend and sold like hot cakes. There are only about 2 or 3 left and I'm so pleased with the response they got. I've also potentially got some even more exciting things happening in the future but I'm not prepared to say anything yet because I have a rotten habit of jinxing things.

   Despite how bad I've been feeling, I have managed to continue exercising, so that hasn't stopped at all, for which I'm grateful. I'm 2 weeks through my run of Raspberry Ketone and it's not affected my health in any adverse way (I'm pretty certain that it has nothing to do with how I'm feeling now) and it seems to be working. At any rate I feel like I'm losing weight a little faster than I was before. I've also planned what my new fitness adventure will be next month so I'm excited for it.
   I've been drinking a lot of green tea, too (I've become a bit of a green tea fiend), which has been picking me up a bit. I've never known any drink to make me feel as fresh as green tea does, but not all of it is so good. If it's by Twinings, I can guarantee I'll like it. Other brands are risky, but sometimes they pay off. Seeg bought me some gorgeous Japanese green tea for Christmas which I absolutely love, and I promise it's not just because it's Japanese. Though that helps.

   My new shop, Ebony Fawn, has had a little bit of attention, too, with my 'Happy Easter' cake topper being added to both Etsy France and Etsy UK's Easter collections, so I'm feeling more confident there.

   I had a nice Valentine's Day, too. Seeg and I don't really do anything but I decided to get him a gift - and it turns out he got me one, too. He's the one that cares less for Valentine's Day out of the two of us so that was a surprise. We also watched a movie and spent some time together - we're not the lovey dovey movie type, so we watched Catch Me If You Can and quite enjoyed it.

   I hope everyone else is doing well! I'm also excited to be starting Vivid Please' post swap now, too! I'll be sure to show what I send and what I receive. My partner is in England, too, which significantly reduces the wait time for both sending and receiving post.

Friday 14 February 2014

Free Shipping - Happy Valentine's Day

   Happy Valentine's/Singles Awareness Day! Get yourself a little something from any of my shops today and get it delivered for free. Applies to orders of any size and any value, and to all countries. Just quote the code VALENTINE14 at checkout.
   PLUS, all UK purchases get some free chocolates! Yum!

   Applies to my small but sweet celebration shop, Ebony Fawn; my plush and sewing pattern shop, Grumble Cave Monsters; and, of course, my jewellery shop, Peaches and Pebbles. Code expires on the 16th so don't miss out! ♥

Thursday 13 February 2014

Surprise Cake!

   It really is. I love it. I admit actually that I'm dead chuffed with how it came out. Seriously. I've said time and time again that things in the kitchen tend to go badly for me, but that never stops me from trying. But this thing turned out amaaaazingly!!

   I don't understand, what's so surprising about it? It's just a cake.


   *Ahem* Oh come on, you know what I'm like!
   This cake was so easy, but admittedly you may need to buy a new cake tray for it.

   You Will Need:
• 2 different cake mixes. I used a Betty Crocker box mix for the chocolate cake, and a simple sponge cake made from scratch for the coloured bits.
(For my sponge cake: 4oz self raising flour, 4oz sugar, 4oz butter, 2 eggs)
• Cake tin (I used a 5 inch tin 3 inches deep)
• Cake pops or cupcake tray
• Different food colourings

1) First of all, you need to make the coloured balls. I mixed up my basic sponge cake and separated it into five different colours: red, blue, yellow, purple and orange. Spoon the mixture into a greased cake pops tray, OR a greased cupcake tray, the smaller the better. If you've used a cupcake tray, use a circle cookie cutter to cut the diagonal edges away once baked. They won't be balls but they will be round.

2) Put them in the oven but don't cook them completely. I cooked my balls for about half the time I usually would have, about 15 minutes. This is because they will go back in the oven later - you want them to keep their shape now, but you don't want them to dry out when they go back in. When they're done, pull them out of the oven and let them cool enough to get them out of the tins.

 3) While your balls or cupcakes are cooling, mix up your next cake mix. I used a box mix because, as I've said before, whenever I make large cakes from scratch they never work - they either burn on the outside and don't cook on the inside (regardless of oven temperature), they burn completely, or they don't come out of the tin. Every time I've used Betty Crocker's Devil's Food Cake box mix it's come out perfect every single time, so it's my go-to box mix now.

4) Grease your cake tin and pour enough of the mixture in to cover the bottom of the tin. Then, pop in your cake balls or trimmed cupcakes. Arrange them how you'd like. Then pour more cake mixture over them. Make sure that you get the cake mixture all around the coloured balls and that they're completely covered. I emptied enough mixture to come up not quite to the top of the balls - the cake does rise, afterall!

5) Put the cake in the oven for however long it needs to bake, but be careful where you poke your skewer when testing how cooked it is. I found that I could see where the balls were because the top of the cake dipped down at four points, and when poked I found that they were the balls. If you poke into the balls, you won't get a good idea of how far along the baking is, so see if you can work out where they are.
   I found when I baked the second cake that the balls began rising in the oven after about 5 minutes, so I used the flat edge of a knife and pressed them back down. They didn't rise after that, but I did have to add a spoon of new mixture on top of each ball because where I pressed down I'd broken the sponge that had already began to bake, but when it came out in the end you'd never have known.

   When it came out, nothing looked unusual (but you can see little dark lines around the cake, like little indents - this is where the balls are.

6) Set up your cooling rack and tip your cake out upside down. I like to do it after it's been out of the oven for a minute or two so that it's still soft and hot. I tip it out upside down and then press the bottom of the cake tin onto the bottom of the cake (now facing upwards) gently for a moment to squash it down a little more. I do this to flatten the top without having to slice too much off to get it flat. I left it and the empty tin to cool before regreasing the tin and pouring in the next mixture. I made a total of four cakes - one was for my nephew's 4th birthday, and the other three were for this project.

   Moving back over to my nephew's cake, I did slice a bit of the top off - the tiniest bit - for a smoother surface, and look what I found! The first hint that all was going to plan! The other balls were lower down in the mixture, evidently, leaving just this little yellow one to point out after I sliced the top off. My nephew's was the first of the cakes I made, and the one I've shown the process of, so you can see that when it came out of the oven there was no trace of colour.

  When I tipped the cake upside down onto the cooling rack, I could see 5 small dark patches on the bottom that hinted at the location of the balls. Whether this would happen for any cake, I don't know, but it occurred with each of mine, so I could use them as a guide to make sure I either alternated or lined up each cake. Unfortunately, I forgot this, and just plonked them all together, which is why the top two are lined up and the bottom isn't. Oops.

   For Riley's cake, I used some of my new piping nozzles! What fun! Yaaaay! It didn't turn out perfectly, but I'm happy with the outcome. Riley is never usually very excited about anything I give him, but he seemed very pleased with his birthday cake!

   The pinwheel cake toppers are adorable, and are from my new celebration shop Ebony Fawn on Etsy. They're available in pink, yellow and blue, with more colours coming, at £15 for a set of 2, as above, in different shades of your chosen colour.

   The cake topper shown here is also available, as 'Happy Birthday', 'Happy Mother's Day', 'Happy Easter' and 'Welcome Home' and while they're £12 for just one large cake topper, they also have 5 water colour painted rose cupcake toppers, too!

Wednesday 12 February 2014

World of Warcraft Valentine Cards

   I've been working on my old WoW Crafting Challenge now that Christmas has passed and my sales have become more managable. I've got 3 completed projects, another in progress and a few more in planning.
   Since Valentine's Day is so nearly upon us, I decided I'd return to the challenge with something Valentine's Day related. I decided I'd make some cards. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. I wanted to use digital art as my medium and use my new printer to create them. It took me about 3 weeks to colour these pictures, and I'm not kidding. They don't even look like they could possibly take that long, but they did. Digital art is not a skill I possess, and despite how bad they look for how long they took, I'm still pretty proud of them.

   I made 4 cards - 2 Horde, 2 Alliance. I drew them in pencil first, then I used a fineliner, then scanned them in and tidied them up. Colouring them took forever, partly because GIMP kept crashing. I had gotten half way through the Dwarf (2nd left) and saved, but the program crashed while saving and I lost the majority of my layers. So I cried for a while then resolved to just do it again instead of giving up and scrapping it through frustration. I'm glad I did because she looks great ^^
   Backgrounds have always been my weakness, so I cheated here and took some screenshots from the game, relevant to each of the different races. The Troll (far left) has a shot of the Isle of Giants - a Troll island filled with dinosaurs. The Dwarf has a shot of Thundermar, a Wildhammer Dwarf village. The Night Elf (second from right) has a tree that fades from yellow to purple in the capital city of the Night Elves, Darnassus. The Blood Elf (far right) has a tree that fades from gold to orange from their homeland of Quel'Thalas. I used GIMP to turn them into mosaics and chose a shape to crop them to that was suitable for the overall shape of the images.

Monday 10 February 2014

New Cufflinks - His & Her's

   I've just added some new products to my shop: cufflinks! These cufflinks have been designed for either men, women, or both! It depends on your taste! All cufflinks are £16 a pair with £1.50 postage in the UK and £3 postage everywhere else. I've also added a matching cufflink and earring set for couples! This set costs £20 with the same shipping. There are currently only one of each set available in my shop because I'm low on (read: otherwise completely out of) supplies needed. If you're interested in a colour that's not available, or in a set that has sold out, get in touch and I can set up a custom listing for you to either purchase custom made cufflinks, or to pre-order existing ones.
   More cufflinks will be available when I have the basic supplies.

Friday 7 February 2014

Fable Anniversary

   To be honest, it's quite ridiculous that Fable Anniversary was released in the US before the UK, given that Lionhead is a UK company and got famous here first, but at least it's out now! I'm looking forward to playing it. Personally I think Fable 2 was the best of all of them, with Fable 3 being a rotten disappointment and every misshapen excuse for Fable that's come out since then is best left ignored, Fable, the original, is hailed by many as the best. Mostly because it was the first and a lot of people have a hard time discerning the difference between the word 'best' and the word 'original' whether it's games, films, music or whatever.
   Fable Anniversary is a remake of the original Fable game. I played about half of it on the PC years and years ago, but I struggled, and the graphics freaked me out (not as much as Oblivion's, that game was lurid as hell), and in the end I lost interest because Jack of Blades took too long to appear. Now, however, the graphics have been improved (I'm not the kind of person that will only play a game based on graphics - in truth, it's one of the last things I think about. Monkey Island is one of my favourite games even now, and I play WoW on 'fair' settings - second from lowest graphical settings - because my PC can't handle more than that) and are less creepy, and it's on the Xbox 360 which makes it better for me personally, because I struggle to get truly immersed on the PC.
   So while I have lots of projects, products and writing I'm supposed to be getting on with, I expect I'll end up playing this more. Plus we got the first run edition, so we get extra in-game goodies which includes a Scythe costume. Scythe is awesome but I wish there was more info about him. He's basically undead but I have no idea why.

   This is also the game the Hobbe figurine I won from Lionhead is from. Yay!

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Tiny Cupcake Gift Box

   I had the idea to put this little box together for a little while, but I didn't really have the means to do it. I've seen plenty of cupcake gift sets - lots of cake cases, sprinkles and so on all in a little box - and I've always loved the look of them. I love sprinkles and I love cake wrappers, I love the colours and the patterns, and boxes of mixed up sprinkles and mixed up cake cases are gorgeous.
   I've been working on a few different projects for Valentine's Day, and while working on them I've accumulated the different parts I needed to put this box together.

   The box has about 50 petit four cases - I love petit fours, I bought myself a petit four cake tin, I was so excited about it - two icing nozzles, four small jars of sprinkles that I coloured myself, two smaller jars of mini Smarties, three heart cookie/fondant cutters in varying sizes and four small paper straws, all in a little 12x8cm box. I had also wanted to add a small wooden mixing spoon but I couldn't find one quickly enough.
   This little gift box would be great as a gift for Valentine's Day, but I think it would make a better Mother's Day gift. Is that wrong of me to think so?

Monday 3 February 2014

Valentine Locket Cookies

   I found this stuff, isomalt, while looking at some baking tutorials recently. It's basically just sugar, kind of like hard candy but without the colour or flavour, and you melt it down and use it in sweets and other such things. While playing about with my patchwork heart cookies that I posted a little while ago, I wondered if it could be used to make sort of stained glass cookies. I've never been fond of them because I've n ever liked the biscuit or candy typically used to make them, but I've always thought they looked nice.

   Well, I was also going through my pinterest boards recently and remembered I'd repinned some pinata cookies - sugar cookies with small M&Ms in them. I thought it would be great to be able to see through the pinata to the sweets, though that would somewhat defeat the object of a pinata - you're not supposed to know what's inside.
   Well, I began to experiment, and one thing led to another, and I ended up with locket cookies.

   Like the pinata cookies, they're made up of three individual biscuits, except, unlike the pinata cookies, two of the cookies have been cut out in the middle, with the top piece being filled with isomalt.

You Will Need:

For the biscuits:
100g softened butter
100g sugar
1 small egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or other flavouring
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder

For the locketyness:
100g isomalt
2 different sized heart shaped cookie cutters
Chocolate or sweets to fill them with (I used mini Smarties)
Buttercream or royal icing
Royal icing as glue
Icing nozzle and piping bag
Heat-proof silicone mat or similar, make sure it's smooth on both sides to prevent it from lifting up.

1) Cream together the softened butter and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla, and then add the flour and baking powder a little at a time. If the mixture becomes too thick, knead it by hand. Add more flour if the mixture seems too wet.

2) Preheat oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F and roll out dough onto a floured surface. Cut out large hearts in multiples of three. Cut a smaller heart out of the middle of two from of every three cookies so that you have one full heart and two hollow hearts (this will make one biscuit). Continue until you use up all your dough. You can either reroll the smaller hearts or keep them as little heart cookies.

3) Transfer the cookies onto a floured baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes.

4) When baked, remove from oven and allow to cool and harden before removing from the tray, then transfer to baking sheet.

5) When the cookies are fully cooled, stack them up - full heart on the bottom, then two hollow hearts on top. Take the top heart and put it on the silicone mat. You can use a bit of royal icing to keep the cookie fixed down in place if you're concerned, but out of the six cookies I made, none of them slipped at all. Make sure that the flattest side of the cookie is facing downwards, but note that the flattest side is likely to be facing upwards when your biscuits have been put together.

6) I only used about 50g of isomalt, so I had 50g left over just in case. Melt your isomalt in a heat-proof jug, following the instructions on the packet. Do not underestimate the temperature of the isomalt. It is seriously hot. I melted it for a total of 1 minute (30 seconds, 15 seconds, 15 seconds) in a pryex jug. The jug was barely warm when the isomalt had completely melted, but I got the tiniest splash of it on my hand when removing the toothpick I used to stir it and it hurt like hell. Unlike hard candy mixtures, the sugar doesn't harden too quickly, so you have about 5 minutes to work with it in the jug. If you want to add colour or flavour, do it now. Adding it before the mixture has fully melted will cause the flavour to dissipate in the heat, so it's best to add both of them once it's been fully melted as it will begin to cool and the heat will dissipate itself instead.
   Pour the melted isomalt into the centre of the heart cookies. There's no need to fill it to the brim - the less you put in, the thinner the layer will be, and then the more room you'll have inside the cookies. Use a toothpick or cocktail stick or something similar to stir the isomalt gently once poured and remove any bubbles - I didn't do this with my first four and I wish I had. Use the cocktail stick to also push the mixture to the edge of the cookie. The stuff pours more like syrup than like water and it doesn't necessarily completely fill the area given. On my last cookie, I didn't do this and there are a few gaps down one side of the heart. Do as I say, not as I do.

7) The isomalt can take about 10 minutes to fully set, so while they're drying, move over to the remaining cookies. Mix up some thick royal icing while you wait and spread it onto the back of the remaining hollow hearts which will be your middle pieces, then stick them down onto their full hearts. These will dry quickly, but that's not much to worry about anyway. Once they're all fixed together, add your lockets' contents. I used mini Smarties, but I didn't expect to be able to fit in as much as I could. By the time you've filled all of your cookies the isomalt will probably be dry. Tap it with a toothpick or cocktail stick to see if it's hardened, then carefully peel part of the silicone mat away. If it's not set yet, you'll know, and you should give it 5 more minutes. If it has set, position the cookies over the top of the candy-filled cookies. Play about with it. Try it upside down (flattest side facing upwards) where the isomalt is also smoothest - it'll give you more room inside the locket to add a few more pieces of chocolate or sweets - or flip it the other way over so that the isomalt is a little less even, and possibly less tidy, but the cookie may also be smoother and more attractive. It doesn't really matter, but I chose to put mine on upside down to give a flatter surface and greater interior size.
Optional: if your isomalt isn't that clear, add a small drop of vegetable oil, olive oil or whatever you have and rub it over the isomalt's surface. It'll clear it up.

8) Once you're satisfied that your isomalt is as clear as it's going to be, and you've figured out which way up your cookies are going and you've adequately filled the cookies, use the remaining royal icing to 'glue' the glassed pieces down.

9) Now it's time for the decoration. I'm utterly useless at this, I tell you. I've only used piping bags a couple of times in the past and I've never gotten on well with nozzles or anything. I'm absolutely hopeless with this sort of thing, so you can understand my sheer surprise when I finally finished. By my personal standards, I did an awesome job. I used a Wilton No. 3 nozzle if anyone is interested.
   I used buttercream but didn't colour it. I had wanted to colour it gold but for some reason I didn't do it, but I like the lacy filigree effect I've got from the vanilla colour, so I'm happy. Royal icing would work just as well, if not better because it will completely harden.
   You can either practise designs on paper, or just wing it. I did the latter, so none of my lockets match, and some are a bit of a mess, but overall I'm happy with it. Be patient and just try it. If you're not used to doing such a thing, choose the less attractive of your cookies (ones that don't line up that well or are a little cracked, or have bubbly isomalt and so on) to do first until you get the feel for it.

10) You can add more frosting and fill in the gaps between the cookies unless they all have completely straight sides, or you can leave them be. I decided not to push my luck and left it alone.

   I'm so pleased with how these came out, so, so pleased! I'm hopeless at cookies, I swear, so this project had a lot of room to go wrong. First the cookies (half of my first batch broke, but by the end of it I had 6 full cookies), then the isomalt (some still have bubbles in them because I didn't think to stir them slowly once poured), then the piping (I made some mistakes when I tried to paint buttercream before it had hardened as completely as buttercream can). As you can see, something did go wrong in each stage, but fortunately the problems were either easily fixed, or easily overlooked. It could have gone so much worse, and I'm so pleased with their outcome.
   If you post my pictures to your own blog or website, please give credit where it's due. I'm really, really proud of this and I deserve a pat on the back :P

February: Raspberry Ketone

Product Rating: ★★★★☆    Personal Results Rating: ★★☆☆☆

   You may recall my New Year's resolution, to try something new in terms of weightloss every month in an attempt to bust through plateaus and see what could potentially work out for me, as well as keeping me interested. Let's be honest, if you don't change up your routine things can get stale and boring, and motivation can dwindle.

   My first month only saw a 2-week project because I couldn't afford a full month of Ilumi's food, but I knew that going in, and I may try them again because the food was good and it was quite easy to do.
   This month, however, I'm going to try a supplement. Raspberry ketones have been mentioned thousands of times over the past few months. Raspberry ketone capsules are capsules of raspberry ketone, a substance found naturally in raspberries which can help metabolism and speed up weightloss if it's taken with a proper diet and frequent exercise. I've wanted to try them for some time, but it's important to know from the very beginning, for my sake and yours, that everyone is different, and that means that the effectiveness of certain diets, exercise regimes and so on varies from person to person, and while raspberry ketone capsules have helped some people lose weight, for others it does nothing at all. I don't honestly know what to expect for myself, but I'm going to go in assuming that it either won't work, or won't work as well as others suggest. On one hand it may be a bad idea to start this off with a negative attitude, but on the other I am trying not to expect too much. There is no miracle quick-fix for weightloss, not at all, you have to put the time and energy into it to get results, but things like this can, sometimes, help.
   The only way I'm going to get any real idea of whether or not it's working is to keep my workouts as steady as they are now and try not to try anything new. I've got new equipment and DVDs, but to get any real idea of how well these will work for me I'll have to avoid starting to use any of it until I've finished the raspberry ketone run.

   For those who are interested, I'm using Real Nutrition Co.'s Raspberry Ketone capsules. There are other raspberry ketone products on the market from other brands, but it's important to keep this in mind if you're deciding what to buy: make sure there's nothing else in them, no acai berries, no caffine, no green tea, nothing but what you're after. The additional ingredients can compromise the effectiveness of the main ingredient, and it can also have adverse affects on you.

   This starts today, however I will stop the trial if the capsules begin to have an adverse affect on me, such as draining my energy or making me feel ill. Things like this shouldn't be taken while pregnant. If you're on medication you should be all right, but you should still definitely consult a doctor or trained pharmacist before taking any, just in case.

Saturday 1 February 2014

9th and Elm Sale

My 9th and Elm sale has begun! There are limited quantites of each piece, and some are one of a kind, so don't miss out on these savings! US and Canadian customers only, sadly, and you will have to sign in to 9th and Elm so see the products available. Visit the sale now!