Saturday 30 December 2017

A Truly Wonderful Christmas

   Snow fell on Boxing Day - it was a touch late, but it was amazing all the same. Down it fell at midnight and carpeted the street, the garden, the fields - it was gorgeous. It was patchy the next morning, as I knew it would be because I was still awake at 2am listening to it melt and drop from the roof to the conservatory. There were two things on my mind: first, that it had snowed very close to Christmas and I hoped it would still be there the next day, though I did take a picture that night (see the above, poorly focused picture), and secondly: weddings.
   Because on Christmas Eve, Seeg proposed.

   I don't care for diamonds. I love them from a geological perspective, but I've never been interested in wearing them. Firstly, I actually find diamond rings quite tacky and cliché, but, frankly, I'd also be too scared to wear it in case it fell out! That wear and tear over the years might loosen it or something, and it's immensely unlikely that you would notice when it happened.
   So instead, he bought me a twig ring - something I've wanted for years but never purchased for myself because I don't wear jewellery except for my two lip rings - one cast from a cherry blossom branch. And it's simply beautiful.

   From that point on, I didn't really care how Christmas went, but it was just as good as always. Great company, good food, and some nice presents to boot! The Urbosa amiibo I never managed to track down myself, the World of Warcraft cook book, both pairs of tribal Wild Bangarang leggings that I couldn't choose between, a foam roller, and a rebounder. It was more than a little bit good.
   Until, of course, I made myself sick. I mentioned a while ago that on Christmas Day, all my eating rules go out of the window. Well, I forgot that last year I went too far. And it happened again this year. The bright side is that I enjoyed it, but it did put a downer on my evening and, to be honest, I was still uncomfortable the next day, and so sluggish! My Boxing Day workout was hard! Fortunately it didn't take long to satisfy my cravings and I got back on the horse yesterday - I quickly got sick of the thought of sweets in general and just wanted to eat healthy and feel better, and it's amazing how quickly your mood is boosted by making better choices. I've not gone cold-turkey on sweets because I'm more likely to eat them that way, even if I don't want them; instead I've returned to my 'is it worth it' scales and am allowing myself pieces of my Christmas choccies (like I can really say 'no' to Prestat Red Velvet), but I'm asking myself if I really want them or if I just want to eat them.

   I've been taking this week easy, seeing to orders but taking my time with it. I didn't plan on returning to it all until the new year, but I figured I can get more done with less pressure if I started early, and with my first post run on January 3rd, I can now get most things ready in time. I've also been making good progress on my writing but I've been taking that slow, too. This is the first time my laptop has been on in a long while, and I've done as much as I can on my book without looking at my notes. I'm about ready to get back to work fully, but I think I'll wait for a couple more days - perhaps leave it until January 1st and spend the last two days of the year playing video games because I'm not likely to give myself that kind of freedom again once I start writing - not until my shop takes over at Christmas time and forces all else aside once again.

   It's nice to slowly return to routine, though. Late mornings, jumbled workouts, incessant snacking and a little too much free time (finally remembered what boredom is, and it's been wonderful), all slowly falling back into place. I feel energised, keen and ready for the new year, and it's helped me to recognise a change I need to enforce - important enough and challenging enough to be a perfect new year's resolution.

   I hope everyone else has had a wonderful Christmas, happy, warm and, above all else, safe. Are you ready to put it behind you? I'm not, but I love the celebration, and with my birthday a little over a week away, I've still got a little more excitement before the wind-down - by which point I'm usually more than ready to return to total normality...

Sunday 24 December 2017

Sigh It Out...

   This past week has been wonderful. It can be so challenging to run your own business, especially over Christmas; it can utterly consume your life. For five weeks straight, Myth of the Wild was all I thought about. It kept me up at night, worrying about getting orders out in good time, whether or not there would be many delays in postal systems (there were) and how many angry customers would blame me for it, or, just as bad, be generally disappointed. It never goes smoothly in December, but it was nowhere near as bad as I'd feared, and most of my customers have been very understanding. But I've been so glad to finally be able to turn away from it and relax, sleep and waste time.
   I've been playing The Witcher 3 all week, and a few days ago I started soft work on my book again - pen and paper, no laptops, and lots of crossing out. Writing by hand can really help to free your mind of pressures to get things done.

   Now, however, it is Christmas Eve; I'm wearing a gorgeous teal green dress from Pepperberry after a hefty HIIT and kickboxing workout, I've got cider marinaded gammon for dinner with the promise of a stuffed duck tomorrow; Seeg and I watched Star Trek Beyond last night (and it was actually okay) and are watching Star Wars VI tonight with some Hotel Chocolat chocolate cake, and I've got a truly scrummy hot chocolate for first thing tomorrow morning chased, no doubt, by whatever additional yummies Seeg is likely to present me with.

   I wish you all a wonderfully warm, happy and healthy Christmas filled with laughs and wonderful company, be it family, your partner, or just a few close friends.
   Stay safe, stay calm (or at least try to avoid stress and negativity where possible) and stay happy!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Christmas Red Velvet Canvas Cake

   The 20s. No, not the 1920's, the December 20s! The slight shift in numericals that set a little fire under shoppers' feet and in the hearts of kids and Christmas fanatics. Christmas is 5 days away! I've always gotten super excited at this point, and I admit that, as an adult, my healthy eating starts to slip a little more. It's true that I relax my diet a little on December 1st because I eat well all year and Christmas is my favourite time, but I always stock up on more delicious Graze snacks and the like, ones with a more decadent flavour and sweetness than I usually go for so that I can indulge without the guilt - you know, between all the real mince pies that slip in - but now it slackens a little more. And I'm okay with that. But that does mean that I put in a little more effort when I am making something healthy.
   Unfortunately, today's canvas cake doesn't really fit the bill. The cake itself is red velvet, with 8.5g fibre, 23.5g protein and 4.5g of carbs, and made with cacao powder and beetroot powder, so while that's just fine, I admit the crushed candy canes, silver sprinkles, mini gingerbread men and mini mince pie kind of counteract that.
   But it's Christmas!!

   I used the basic canvas cake recipe with 1 tbsp of Aduna cacao and 1 tsp beetroot powder, topped with 50g Yeo Valley 0% fat yoghurt, some silver balls, crumbled candy cane, 2 McVities mini gingerbread men and a mini skinny mince pie. It's a bit much, but as I said: it's Christmas.

Christmas Red Velvet Mug Cake (without mince pie):
251 calories, 5g fat, 23g carbs, 8.5g fibre, 27g protein
Cake + 1/2 tsp beetroot powder (approx 1g) + 1 tbsp cacao powder (approx 10g): 165 calories, 3.8g fat, 4.5g carbs, 8.5g fibre, 23.5g protein
50g 0% plain yoghurt: 30 calories, 0g fat, 4g carbs, 3.5g protein
  - 2 McVities mini gingerbread men: 26 calories, 1g fat, 4g carbs
  - Silver sprinkles: 15 calories, 4.5g carbs
  - Sprinkling of broken candy cane: 15 calories, 6g carbs
  - [Optional] skinny mini mince pie: 110 cals, 3.5g fat, 17.25g carbs, 0.4g fibre, 1.6g protein

Monday 18 December 2017

Killer Body - 2 Weeks Later

   In truth, I've been too busy with my Etsy shop to really spare much thought about this Killer Body workout. I've not missed a day, and I've given it my all - in fact, since the Christmas tree went up, whose lights I always turn on for my workout, I've found renewed energy, enthusiasm and power. But I've not had the time to fret about it.
   I've been alternating: Monday is lower body, Wednesday is upper body, Friday is either kickboxing or total-body resistance, and Saturday is both core and kickboxing. Tuesday and Thursday are supposed to be rest days, but I admit that I've been using FitFlow Max from last month on those days for a little more movement and active recovery.
   But, as we enter Christmas-week, my set-up is changing. Lower body Monday, with optional cardio, upper body Wednesday with cardio, yoga Thursday, lower body again on Saturday and both core and kickboxing on Sunday (Christmas Eve). It's true that I'm fitting in an extra day of Killer Body and a little more cardio once my body is in fat-burning mode, but I'm absolutely ensuring that Tuesday and, this time, Friday, will be proper rest days. Why? Because by doing more resistance that week, not to mention my lack of rest but for Sunday over the past two weeks, I need more recovery time. The very last thing I want is to get a migraine on Christmas day.
   But my Etsy shop has closed for Christmas, which means that I have more time to myself and less stress, so less reason to resort to yoga and exercise as a stress-release and more opportunity for general relaxation, and it also means I have the time for a soak in the bath. I have my magnesium flakes, which should help muscle recovery and stave off the migraine, as well as being a generally enjoyable time with a Lush Christmas bath bomb and a deliciously indulgent hot chocolate.

   But, as for the workouts themselves, Killer Body is tough but doable. Upper body and core leave me sore, but they're not that bad while you're doing it so there's little room for dread. Lower body, on the other hand, is brutal, but it's balanced by the fact that the first two of the four circuits are the worst, and it gets easier (or, rather, more tolerable) from circuit three onwards. So while I do dread lower body, when I have the time to fret, it's also not so bad once you're in it. You have to focus on what you're doing and that silences your mind, and when it starts to hurt, it becomes a little better.
   It's always such an achievement when I finish them, and by using isolated, focused workouts - though arms, legs and core are engaged in each program, it's just that the focus and emphasis changes accordingly - your body can recover more easily from the past workout and that means that it's easier to work out again the next day or so because you won't be focusing on the same muscle groups.

   I'll update again in 2 weeks, and hopefully I'll get a DVD review for Killer Body written this year...

Friday 15 December 2017

Mulled Wine Canvas Cake

   Christmas is fast approaching, the house is decorated, and I'm surrounded by reds and golds. It's wonderful. And after discovering Belvoir's Mulled Winter Punch - a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine - two years ago, I knew I had to try to work it into a canvas cake. Replacing the water with the punch, it would add all the colour, flavour and sweetness on its own - which also means no need for Stevia. And it worked beautifully!
   Unfortunately I've been so busy with Myth of the Wild that I'd forgotten to give decorating it much thought, so it doesn't look as good as it could, but it tasted wonderful. Just what I needed for the final crazy day of sales - because, if you didn't know, today is the deadline for UK Christmas orders!

   The basic canvas cake recipe, but removing Stevia and replacing the water with Belvoir's Mulled Winter Punch (non-alcoholic), topped with 50g 0% fat plain Yeo Valley yogurt, a streak of Dr Oetker's gold shimmer spray, a pinch of silver sprinkles and one snowflake from a Hotel Chocolat tree decoration (contains 3).

Mulled Wine Mug Cake:
275 calories, 6.8g fat, 24.5g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 22.5g protein
Cake + 80ml Belvoir Mulled Winter Punch: 180 calories, 2.8g fat, 16g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 21.5g protein
50g Yogurt: 50 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbs, 4g protein
  - mini Hotel Chocolat snowflake: 20 calories, 4.5g carbs
  - Silver sprinkles: 15 calories, 4.5g carbs

Thursday 14 December 2017

Spiced Apple & Cranberry Porridge

   I've been ridiculously busy lately, but I have managed to preserve the first half of my mornings as me-time. Most days that just means a workout, but on rest days that means computer games and more interesting breakfasts! And as Christmas has really gotten me into the kitchen, I've been churning them out like no one's business. So after my recent roasted chestnut porridge and a new spin on the mince pie, porridge-style, I decided to get more use out of the apples sitting in my fridge and the enormous punnet of cranberries my dad recently brought me.
   So here's another healthy Christmas breakfast recipe: spiced apple and cranberry porridge. It's full of antioxidants, counts as 1.5 of your 5 a day, is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein, is low-fat and contains only natural sugars! There is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about here.
   Having said that, there's not much to feel guilty about with my winter spice chocolate porridge, either.

Serves 1
1 apple, peeled, cored & diced
50g cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp mixed spice
30g oats
20g whey protein
1/2 sachet Stevia
125ml skimmed milk
125ml freshly boiled water

1. Combine apple and 25ml of water in a sauce pan and heat gently over medium-low for 15 minutes.

2. Turn the heat to medium and add the cranberries and mixed spice, cooking for 10 minutes.

3. Thoroughly Combine the oats, whey & Stevia in a bowl, then add to the pan.

4. Add milk and freshly boiled water and heat for 3-5 minutes.

5. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes to thicken.

6. Transfer to a bowl, garnish with apple peel & cranberries and serve.

• I used Pulsin Simply Whey & fresh cranberries.

325 calories, 4g fat, 46g carbs (30g all natural sugars), 7g fibre, 24g protein

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Christmas Mince Pie Porridge

   So. Food. Christmas. Love it. We've established that. And I am a breakfast enthusiast, to say the least. So, naturally, my newfound obsession with mince pies has sort of...spiralled out of control. I already made mini skinny mince pies, and I've been experimenting with mince pie flapjacks (though when Graze decided, due to demand, to re-release them this year after all, my efforts in that area have diminished), but there was no way I could avoid experimenting with breakfast. And as my favourite breakfasts are porridge and canvas cake, I opted for...well I suppose the title gave it away but I opted for a festive mince pie porridge. Fancy canvas cakes take a bit of planning and this was somewhat spontaneous.

   I garnished it with tiny yogurt pastry leaves I made the day before with my mini mince pies, and I separated the mince pie filling to add a little on top instead of mixing it all through. And you can use any mince pie filling, store-bought or home-made, but I used Meridian's organic mince pie filling - no added sugar, nothing artificial, just fruit, molasses and spice.

Serves 1
30g rolled oats
20g whey protein
125ml skimmed milk
125ml boiled water
50g mince pie filling (or more to taste)

1. Combine the oats and protein powder in a pan and mix thoroughly

2. Stir in the milk, mixing all the while to avoid the protein lumping, then turn the hob to medium heat and add the freshly boiled water, mixing again.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and add the mince pie filling - if garnishing, set a teaspoon aside - and stir to combine.

4. Allow to thicken for about 5 minutes on low heat, then transfer to a bowl and serve, adding the left over mince pie filling on top if desired.

• I used Pulsin's premium whey & Meridian organic mince pie filling
• The leaves weighed about 5g all together, dough rolled to 3mm thick from the recipe for my mini skinny mince pies
• If the flavour isn't strong enough, add more mince pie filling or just more spices; Meridian is quite sweet, as noted by Seeg after eating just one mini mince pie (20g filling and no sugar or sweetener in the pastry), but you can add honey or Stevia if needed.

370 cals, 5.5g fat (1g sat), 56g carbs (30g natural sugars), 4.5g fibre, 25g protein

Sunday 10 December 2017

FitFlow Max Review

Price: £14/$20
Length: 5x 30-40 minute yoga routines
Workouts: Upper, Lower, Core, Total, Yoga, Stretch
Suitable for: Intermediate - Advanced
Overall Rating:   ★★★★★
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   I do yoga often but I admit that, while I change up my workout every month, I rarely vary my yoga. I use it more as a means of unwinding after lots of resistance workouts rather than something I practice or try to get better at - though I  have definitely seen improvements stemming from frequent use and the strength and flexibility gained from other workouts. I have few DVDs and sequences, and while they're relatively intermediate, none of them feature anything outlandish like the yogis you see on Instagram.
   That said, as someone at the low end of intermediate, this yoga program was something I found myself able to do, but was still physically challenged by. And while I may look for a simpler routine where yoga is used as a recovery, if a yoga routine is taking its place as my month's workout, such as this HIIT-yoga fusion, 'challenging' is a detail I hunger for.

   This program features 5 yoga workouts varying from 30-40 minutes long; three are HIIT-structured with a focus on the upper body, lower body and total body, and the rest are more recovery-based, with one focusing on core and stretching, and the other a fluid yoga sequence to counter the resistance and cardio of the week. It's a 6-day-a-week, 4-week program wherein each week one of the workouts will be repeated.
   There is no music, which I thought would be an issue, but surprisingly it isn't, and I put that down to the way Briohny and MacKenzie chatter. Rather than distracting or all-business, it actually feels like you're a part of the class. I've used programs with chatty instructors before, but I've never felt so involved. But if it bothers you, you can easily play your own music beneath it.

   A yoga mat for grip and comfort is essential, and they do use yoga blocks. I didn't have any when I started so I made do with the floor, and while I managed, I did end up buying a yoga block. Not so much because I couldn't reach, but rather I was over-extending and couldn't keep a flat back where it mattered. But these can be picked up on the cheap from most sports stores.

Difficulty & Guidance
   As I said above, as someone who usually practises yoga at the lower end of intermediate, this workout was something I could do, but was still challenged by. Most of the movements were familiar, but those I'd never seen before - basic or variations - were all well-demonstrated, well-explained and well-cued, so you always know where you are. I never got lost once.
   The HIIT element isn't that bad, it's made mostly from repping in and out of the poses with a few more obvious cardio sequences, but those reps and cardio sequences are necessary to building heat and raising the heart rate, and what's HIIT without a thumping heart?
   Variations for beginners and advanced are offered throughout, and being intermediate (I'm relatively advanced in most workouts) I was given something to strive for in almost every movement. And I was so impressed with myself when I succeeded.

Warm Up
   I wouldn't usually write about the warm up section, but I'm mentioning it for the simple fact that there isn't one. If this was ordinary yoga it might not be an issue, but repping in and out of movements and really engaging your muscles...well, on cold winter mornings, you really, really do want to warm up first. I generally spent 5 minutes jogging on the spot, doing arm windmills, jumping jacks, standing toetap kicks and so on. When chaturangas and crescent lunges are involved, you really do want warm arms and legs. I quite successfully pulled my hamstrings on my first day following the lower body workout because I trusted too foolishly.
   There is also no cool down, and while that's not a problem on all of them, you definitely want to make sure you stretch your arms out after upper body and legs after lower.

Lower Body - 35 minutes consisting of 2 circuits, repeated three times on each side, alternating. The first set of each circuit on each side is slow and painful (in a good way), but the second and third rounds are faster, both in movement and in duration. And it may sound strange - it was strange when they said it - but while adding a hop to crescent lunge reps is a challenge in the first round, it's actually doable in the second, and nearly easy in the third. Rather than tire yourself out, you seem to just heat yourself up and get better with every rep. It's a wonderful and powerful feeling.
Upper Body - 30 minutes of one long and dynamic circuit, repeated three times on each side, alternating. You spend a lot of time in plank and downward dog, but don't be fooled, your legs get involved and your heartrate rises. And, as with the lower body workout, each set gets easier as you go along. I struggled with this one and was quite clumsy at first, but I soon found my rhythm. But you will seriously feel it in your arms, chest and shoulders by the end.
Total Body - 30 minutes of two circuits, but definitely the most complicated. A lot more balance is involved in the total body section, and it's tempting to try to keep up with them as the sets get shorter and more fluid, but the fact is, by rushing along, you don't get the depth and you will end up falling over. It was only on the very last set on the right side that I realised my mistake, and noticed an immediate difference when I slowed down a little, catching up in the vinyasa. It doesn't feel like the whole body is getting a workout, and while it's true you don't feel the burn as intensely as in Upper or Lower, you will notice it the next day, and you will raise your heart rate. There are also a few brief cardio intervals to raise the heart rate, too.
Core & Stretch - This 40-minute workout isn't made with the same circuit set up as the others. Instead you roll through the movements and generally progress from start to finish, repeating movements only when individual sides are concerned, and there are few in this case. The core hurts, and not just your abs. Your legs and hips get involved a fair bit, which is nice for a little extra work, but it's certainly lower impact than the others, with the hard work mostly focused in the first 20 minutes and more stretching and static poses in the last.
Yoga FitFlow - This 40-minute yoga sequence features intermediate moves and a fluid flow from one position to the next, with no circuits involved beyond balancing out the sides as in Core & Stretch. There's little repping in and out of the poses so the cardio element is low, but  there is a little more leg strength involved than expected for a routine designed to counter and stretch after the other workouts. But while the power in the legs isn't too demanding, the sequence itself is a challenge for someone of my abilities and the instruction isn't as clear as in the others. I muddled through the first usage, however, and improved with every subsequent use, as is often the case with all workouts.

   It's true that a HIIT-yoga fusion was never going to be as powerful or fat-burning as a more typical HIIT workout, nor as calming as a typical yoga workout, but it was a very well-balanced fusion nonetheless and provided, where promised, HIIT intervals that did make me sweat and did get my heart pounding. But the resistance was also brilliant, and even repping in and out of a crescent lunge, you are going to feel it.
   Not for the beginner, the movements in this program, especially when flowing from one to another, is more suited to the intermediate user while still providing plenty of room to grow, and advanced yogis can get their fill, too.
   Highly recommended if you're looking for more than just yoga, but not if you're after something traditional or something high-impact.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Lean Greens & Beating Christmas Bloat

   When Christmas comes along, I like to do anything I can to give my health a little boost knowing that it's my most unhealthy month. Though, as you can see from my 'how to beat Christmas weight gain' post last week, I already do a lot by eating healthily, saying 'no' to treats that I know aren't really worth it and exercising more efficiently. But I also use supplements.
   Now, in a bid to lose weight, up until half way through this year I used to take all kinds of supplements from silly things like raspberry ketones to more elaborate thermo fat-burners. Not one of them worked. I have a whole post to go up about that soon.
   But what I have learned is that, while 'supplement' now fills me with a sense of dread, not all of them out there are bad. In fact, some of them I sill use, and it's easy to tell which are good because they're the ones that don't make outlandish claims. If something that isn't a piece of gym kit claims to help you lose weight, it's nonsense.
   So aside from protein shakes (85% protein minimum) after almost every workout and multivitamins and an extra vitamin D (England!) and magnesium (prone to migraines) every morning for the past year or so, when I know things are going to get a little...well not quite so 80/20 anymore, I like to turn it up a notch with more efficient exercise, ensuring resistance and cardio in every session, and implementing a little more natural goodness. And super green powders are the easiest way to do it.

   'Greens' in this case refers to those funky green powders you see people mixing into juice or smoothies, and generally consist of greeeeen things like spirulina, barley grass, chlorella and so on for a multitude of benefits in a concentrated daily dose.
   There are loads of green powders on the market. I've tried a few, and it's true that they're not the most enjoyable thing to drink, but they're really good for you when not packed with extra rubbish. And anyway, not everything that is good for you is pleasant. Looking at you, burpees.
   This Christmas I'm turning to Lean Greens since they have a great profile and aren't filled with extra cayenne (how is that even green?!) or caffine, and I'm still looking for one I can stomach a little easier. But aside from the taste - which Lean Greens themselves say 'if you sip it, sniff it, linger over the colour, the harder it gets' - I'm expecting the same boost I always get from these kinds of products. My skin always looks a little better - who doesn't want that at Christmas? - and my energy levels are a little higher with all the circulating nutrients.

   If taste turns out to be the same as the rest - and given the lack of artificial flavourings and the like, I'd be surprised if it didn't - I'll mix it with kefir, which I started making myself in the summer, or some lovely festive and highly anti-oxidising cranberry juice. Either way, my Christmas workout began on Monday, I have a lovely delivery of Graze multipacks including the return of the mince pie flapjack YAY! And I've also nabbed some gorgeous new fit bits over Black Friday.
   I am so ready for Christmas. Where are the mince pies?!

Thursday 7 December 2017

Winter Wonderland Canvas Cake

   I've been so busy lately that this post - as well as many others - is a little late to go up, but I've managed to scrape some minutes together from filling Myth of the Wild orders to do it.
   We actually had snow the other day. Snow. It didn't settle at all, but it was falling from the sky and it was so exciting! As I said in Beating Christmas Stress (The Myth of the Perfect Christmas), we're more likely to see floods than any snow, settling or otherwise, so that was a surprise. And as we're not likely to see any more, I jumped onto a winter wonderland canvas cake for breakfast the next day.
   The wonderful thing about canvas cakes is that they're colourless and pretty flavourless and topped with white yogurt - it's a canvas. So any flavour or colour you do add comes through wonderfully. In this case, though, I flavoured it with vanilla bean which preserved the whiteness while adding a wonderful taste and aroma, while Stevia did its usual job of sweetening perfectly.

   I used the basic canvas cake recipe with the seeds of half a vanilla bean, topped with Yeo Valley honey Greek yogurt, some mini white marshmallows, silver sprinkles, and 10g of Green & Black's white chocolate melted into a mini snowflake.

Winter Wonderland Mug Cake:
280 calories, 6.8g fat, 24.5g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 22.5g protein
Cake + vanilla seeds: 135 calories, 2.8g fat, 2.5g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 21.5g protein
50g Yogurt: 50 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbs, 4g protein
  - 10 mini marshmallows: 20 calories, 5.5g carbs
  - 10g Green & Black's white chocolate: 60 calories, 4g fat, 5g carbs, 1g protein
  - Silver sprinkles: 15 calories, 4.5g carbs

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Sinterklaas Horse Cake, Amerigo

   I mentioned yesterday morning with my Sinterklaas canvas cake that I was making little speculaas cakes for Sinterklaas dessert, and here they are! Sinterklaas doesn't have reindeer or a sleigh like Father Christmas, he has but one white horse named Amerigo. So I decided, after seeing a few cute reindeer cakes, that I would try to make a little horse instead.
   These two cakes are a simple speculaas Sinterklaas cake, which is deliciously spiced, covered in whipped double cream with a squirt of aerosol cream on top, strawberry and blackcurrant BEAR yoyo cut with a circular cookie cutter for the detail - any fruit roll up will do, or you could just pipe it - and some last-minute paper & toothpick ears. They're also tiny. I used two 3x3 inch cake tins for this, which is absolutely perfect to serve 4. I used them at Easter a couple of years ago and made one cake each because they were so small, and it turned out to be, quite simply, too much.

Makes 2 3x3 inch cakes, perfect to serve 4
Speculaas Cake
100g butter, room temperature
75g sugar
1 tsp speculaas spice
100g self raising flour
2 eggs 
Optional 6 pepernoten biscuits, broken

To Decorate
100ml heavy cream
1 blackcurrant BEAR yoyo/fruit roll
1 strawberry BEAR yoyo/fruit roll
Whipped cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4 and line or grease two 3x3 inch cake tins.

2. Cream together the butter, sugar and speculaas spice until thoroughly combined.

3. Add 1 egg and half of the flour, mix to combine, then add the remaining egg and flour.

4. Add the broken biscuits to the batter, if using, combining well, then divide between the two cake tins.

5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes, then let cool.

6. Once the cakes have cooled, begin to beat the heavy cream in a bowl until thick.

7. Using a palette knife or the smooth edge of a butter/table knife, spread the cream around the sides of the cake. Be patient!

8. Take your yoyos or fruit rolls and, using a circular (or the rounded edge of a heart) cookie cutter, cut two eyes and two nostrils for each horse and arrange on the cream. Cut the remaining lengths into strips 5mm thick and arrange as a bridle - one over the nose, one above the eyes, and two down the sides.

9. When ready to serve, cover the top in whipped cream and poke in some paper ears. I taped ear shapes to toothpicks.

• I used Stork cakes vegetable spread in place of butter.
• You can put pepernoten, kruidnoten or even just gingerbread biscuits into a bag and break them up with a rolling pin and add them to the mix.

Per 1/2 cake, without cream
346 cals, 20g fat (5g sat), 35g carbs, 5.5g protein
Per 1/2 cake with cream
488 cals, 35g fat (14g sat), 149.5g carbs, 6g protein

Hotel Chocolate Winter Spice Freak Shake - Healthy Christmas

   Christmas always seems to get me in the kitchen more than any other time of the year. I always find myself trying to come up with new recipes, and lately I'm just obsessed with breakfast - yes, this is a breakfast post.
   A freak shake for breakfast? Really? You've asked me that before. But regardless of the fact that this freak shake is actually good for you, it's also Christmas. And what's better than festive decadence at breakfast?

   But, while my salted caramel freak shake was quite healthy, this one is not sugar-free. Rather than a chocolate protein base, I used Hotel Chocolat's Winter Spice hot chocolate shavings along with some plain whey protein. And it's amazing. But, of course, it is Hotel Chocolat, and that means more cocoa, less sugar, and no artificial nonsense, which means a cleaner shake all round!

   Perfect for a Christmas workout or breakfast, this healthy freak shake is high in protein, low in fat and sugar, and contains lots of probiotics thanks to the yogurt! Hotel Chocolat have always been high-cocoa and low-sugar, and yet aren't dark unless they say so. And even at 50% cocoa, this hot chocolate isn't dark. It's sweet enough to provide all the sweetness and flavour by itself. It's deliciously thick, decadently chocolate and sensually spiced.
   Stored in the fridge for 2 days, it can be made ahead of time for Christmas gatherings, last-minute workouts - there's only so much time in the day - or breakfast on the go. It's a truly guiltless Christmas treat!

Serves 1
Shake Base
20-35g Hotel Chocolate winter spiced hot chocolate
50ml skimmed milk
20g whey protein powder (I used Pulsin Simply Whey)
250ml water
150g fat-free greek yogurt (Yeo Valley bio-live)
Optional 1-2 tbsp (10g) cacao
Low-fat whipped cream
1 skinny mini mince pie
1 Hotel Chocolat  mini chocolate snowflake

1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low until it starts to steam. Remove from the heat and add the hot chocolate shavings, stirring until melted. Set aside to cool.

2. Combine the cold water, cooled chocolate milk, protein powder, yogurt and optional cacao into either a shaker bottle or blender and mix.

3. Transfer the shake into a tall glass or mason jar (while they're still popular).

4. Squirt cream on top, add the snowflake and mini mince pie, and a small sprinkling of crushed candy cane or more chocolate shavings. Serve and enjoy!

I used Pulsin whey protein powder, Yeo Valley fat free Greek yogurt & Aduna cacao
The mini snowflakes come as a pack of 3 inside a tree decoration. They are perfect for adding to desserts, hot chocolates, or even a festive chocolate porridge.
I used 12g of low-fat whipped cream, a single serving.

For just the shake base (20g chocolate, 10g cacao)
290 cals, 6.5g fat (3.5g sat), 22g carbs (18g sugar [10g from milk]), 25g protein
Based on 20g chocolate, 10g cacao, 12.5g whipped cream, 1 mini mince pie & 1 snowflake
445 cals, 11.5g fat (6.5g sat), 41.5g carbs (29g sugar [10g from milk, 10g from fruit]), 26.5g protein

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Sinterklaas Canvas Cake

   Lately, I have been working my socks off. Seriously. Every single day for the past two weeks I've been working on filling Myth of the Wild orders from noon until 10pm, and doing chores all morning. I had a brief break on Thursday when Seeg, Lucy and I went out to Lacock to wander around the Abbey and old village, ate the best sausage roll on the face of the planet, and stopped in the local bakery and chocolate shop - hello peanut and caramel chocolate salami! But as soon as we got back I slipped back into my routine. Though I admit that it's nice to be keeping so busy, it's also meant that I haven't had the chance to write anything of my book since the middle of last month.
   The only time I've had to get back to myself are for half-hour workouts, and this morning seems to be the first chance I've truly had to breathe and slow down, which has set me up for a better day.

   And so I can say, with a smile, happy Sinterklaas!
   Yeah, yeah, I know it's for the kids, and I know I'm not Dutch, but a Dutch boyfriend gives me the right to celebrate such things and use them as an excuse to celebrate. And despite being 26 years old, when we went to visit his parents a few years ago and were there for December 5th, they revived the holiday so I got to experience Sinterklaas - hessian bags on the doorstep in the evening, pepernoten through the letterbox and gifts wrapped in disguise. The only thing I didn't get were the poems to help you guess each gift, because writing a poem in your second language isn't an easy thing.
   I'm making a venison stew with Dick Soek's practise of adding kruidnoten in place of flour to thicken the broth, I've made some small cakes of Sinterklaas's horse, Amerigo, for dessert, and we're watching a movie with some giant chocolate letters to pig out on.

   But for now, it's a Sinterklaas canvas cake for breakfast! Spiced with speculaas and topped with honey yogurt, mini kruidnoten (spiced Dutch biscuits) I made myself, some tiny chocolate letters - chocolate letters are part of the Sinterklaas tradtion - and a last-minute sprinkling of a broken candy cane, it's pretty yummy and suitably sweet for a festive occasion.

   I used the basic canvas cake recipe with 1 tsp speculaas spice mix from Vandotsch, topped with 50g of Yeo Valley Greek yogurt with honey, some mini kruidnoten I made myself - equivalent to about 3 full-sized pepernoten/kruidnoten biscuits - 'Sinterklaas' spelled out with the melted chocolate of 1 Hotel Chocolat gingerbread man (I put him in a piping bag and melted in him in that over a double-boiler) and a sprinkling of candy cane pieces from a broken mini cane by Mr Stanley, which I didn't photograph as it was a last-minute addition!

Spiced Sinterklaas Mug Cake:
320 calories, 9g fat, 27g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 22.5g protein
Cake + speculaas spice: 135 calories, 2.8g fat, 2.5g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 21.5g protein
50g Yogurt: 50 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbs, 4g protein
  - mini pepernoten (about 3 full-sized biscuits): 60 calories, 2g fat, 7g carbs
  - 1 Hotel Chocolat gingerbread man chocolate: 60 calories, 4g fat, 4.5g carbs, 1g protein
  - Sprinkling of broken candy cane: 15 calories, 6g carbs

Monday 4 December 2017

December - Killer Body

   In December 2015, I used Jillian Michaels' Killer Body. I was looking for a tougher workout in anticipation of Christmas indulgence, and I figured Jillian Michaels was the best person to turn to.
   Killer Body, supplemented with a little cardio every now and then, proved to be immensely effective in keeping off the Christmas weight. In fact, I even lost a little, all without sacrificing mince pies.
   In 2016, I decided to go down the same road, but rather than use Killer Body's three 30-minute workouts again, I opted for her Killer Buns & Thighs and her Killer Arms & Back DVDs, each with three 30-minute workouts of varying levels. I used them for 6 weeks, 2 weeks on each level, and supplemented them with cardio again. Once again, I didn't gain a thing, I didn't miss out, and I even lost a little.
   This year, I've decided to use Killer Body again. I used the two DVDs not that long ago - too recently, at any rate, to want to use them again just yet - and while I'm aware this means I'll be using the same 3 workouts for 6 weeks rather than 2 workouts for 2 weeks at a time, I'm also willing to swap them out if I really start to lose enthusiasm.

   But, as I always do at this time of the year, I've got a few things on the side to boost that enthusiasm:

Post-Workout - I do prefer to use things like My Protein since they have much more protein per serving than brands like PhD, but at the same time, PhD tastes a lot better and has a wonderful thickness. It's nice to have a treat, and if I'm happy to consider a protein shake as a treat, then I'm easily pleased. So I bought PhD salted caramel diet whey - the same protein I used in my salted caramel golden freak shake - for the duration.

Kit - there is one sale in particular that I look out for on Black Friday, and that is Fabletics. They are expensive, but their quality is the best I have ever had, so you truly do get what you pay for. I can guarantee amazing compression, stretch, the most perfect fit in the whole wide world, the most flattering shape and, most importantly, security. The leggings don't pull down nor ride up whether you're flexing into a flying pigeon or going for your PB on burpees. But when Black Friday rolls along, they do 2 for 1 on most products, so I can bag 2 pairs of leggings for the price of one. Unfortunately their designs sell out fast, so if there's something I want, it's a big risk to wait. But I do, and it paid off. I got Brogan II in black and rose gold, and Salar in fossil (no, the name didn't sell me, instead it was the blizzard flurry design).

Healthy Snacks & Feel-Good Products - so I can get my fill of Christmas without hurting the waistline. These include Christmas pudding Nakd bars, Graze's speculoos dipper and mince pie flapjacks, and homemade goodies like my skinny mini mince pies and my mini 4-ingredient Christmas puddings. Then there's also the boosters to compensate for the slightly less healthy choices I will inevitably - and guiltlessly - make this month, like Lean Greens and larger glasses of kefir.

   These kinds of things, when done one at a time, tend to help me stick to the tougher workouts that I sometimes dread when I wake up, which I know I will this month despite how much I enjoy it while doing it. But with a tough 6-week workout right at the most indulgent time of the year (Christmas and 2 birthdays within 2 weeks), I could do with a little extra help, so I combine them all. New leggings, tastier shakes, healthy snacks and feel-good boosters.

   I'll update in two weeks, mostly to see if it's working out as I expect it to.
   Wish me luck! I'll need it...

Sunday 3 December 2017

FitFlow Max - 4 Weeks Later

   FitFlow Max has actually been really good. Perhaps one of my more memorable workouts. I've thoroughly enjoyed it, it's been a challenge and gotten my heartrate up without once being something I've dreaded. It's also been very refreshing to have a yoga sequence challenge me - as I said two weeks ago, I tend to use yoga as an active recovery rather than something to get better at, so having to really brace my core and find more strength in my body for movement and balance through less familiar poses has been really very enjoyable.

   And it really has been a challenge. I consider myself to be a lower-end-intermediate yoga...practitioner, and so I felt that this intermediate yoga program would be relatively doable with a little bit of trouble. Most of the poses were actually familiar, with warriors, half-moons and standard vinyasas, but the depth of holding the poses, the transitions and the variations were where I struggled. I can do a side plank, but an elevated side plank with an extended top arm and elevated top leg that lifts and lowers is tough, then sweeping fluidly into a forearm side plank on the other side to repeat the motion is even tougher. But the satisfaction that comes with the success of that balance in motion (in the third week) is immense. Especially when the circuit is repeated 3 times on each side, giving me five more chances to prove that the first wasn't a fluke.

   I also enjoyed doing yoga in the dark at 6:30 am, which isn't something I ever did before, but as I wanted to use the two 'easier' videos but didn't want to lose out on my two long rest day mornings in the week, I made the compromise of yoga first thing when I get up to look after mum, and then continuing as a normal rest day. And I rather enjoyed facing the window and watching the sun rise as I moved. It sounds cheesy, but it was really very pleasant.

   I've felt my strength increase with most workouts I use, but this is the first occasion in a long time that I've felt as though I've actually grown. My confidence in motion, my balance, and my strength have all improved, and I suddenly feel like I can and should take on more challenging yoga practise.
   The two instructors were also fabulous, and they have more FitFlow routines, so I find it quite likely that I'll be giving them another go - and FitFlow Max will become a frequent use. I'm already looking at some of their other collaborations, and I'm also looking at Briohny's own Vinyasa FitFlow.

   But, after this chill-out workout and easy-going month, tomorrow I begin my Christmas burn. High-impact, compound resistance followed by cardio of one kind or another 3 days a week. It's going to last 6 weeks, too, so that it covers Christmas and my birthday, but having followed this method for two Christmasses past and gained no weight during despite indulging in festivities, it's worth it...

   My full and comprehensive FitFlow Max review will be up a week today ♥

Saturday 2 December 2017

Luxe Christmas Gift Guide

   I've done all the themed gift guides I could think of this year, so it's time for the generic, but better. Indulgent chocolates, luxurious skin care, flower subscriptions and so much more. It's the perfect way of disguising the fact that you didn't know what to get them!

Friday 1 December 2017

Etsy Favourites

Happy Freaking December!!
Did you all crack open your advent calendars with zeal today? I certainly did. Only one of them, though. Naked Marshmallow in the morning, and then my own which I filled with Hotel Chocolat goodies this evening. I even accompanied my apple spice porridge with a cup of teapigs' glühwein tea. It's basically mulled wine in tea form.
I am so ready for Christmas.
And because I'm so ridiculously ready to be festive (I've been holding it in for so long), today's Etsy feature is full of brazen Christmas accessories - jewellery, crowns, nails - so that you can unleash your inner tinsel monster just as loudly!

Laser cut Ho Ho Ho earrings   ♥   Winter floral crown
Reindeer antler hair clips   ♥   Christmas pudding ring
Mince pie brooch   ♥   Christmas press-on nails

As for a necklace, I was cheeky and reserved that slot for one of my own. This tiny snowman necklace measures just 2.5cm tall and contains a never-melting 1cm snowman in a hat and scarf on a bed of snow. What more could you want?

Thursday 30 November 2017

The Myth of the Perfect Christmas

   Oh how I wish it would snow.
   White Christmasses are becoming a thing of the past. It's our own fault, of course, but the thought that my 7 and 3 year old nephews will never know a white Christmas is kind of sad. I haven't seen one since I was a kid. See, in the UK, rain is the weather of every season, and here in the South West, the danger of flooding is real. It's just too mild for snow, and while it's true that January and February are the coldest months of the year, we're still seeing temperatures of 13 degrees Celcius in late November. How did we ever see snow at Christmas?! And yet even on UK Christmas TV and films, there is always snow at Christmas. Because that's the Christmas ideal - which is incidentally hilarious because the fall of a single snowflake sends the country mad with weather warnings. In the US things don't seem to get bad until the snow reaches half a foot. Over here, the snow doesn't even settle. Frost is the closest thing we get to a white Christmas. Exhibit A:

Perfect Month Syndrome
   I was reading this month's Women's Health magazine (50) - I find the magazine disappointing so I rarely ever buy it, and yet my 3-year subscription to Women's Fitness has proven to be immensely valuable - and there was an article in there about Christmas stress. Now, it wasn't so much the 'How to Christmas-Proof Your Brain' title that drew me in, because I love Christmas and don't want to Christmas-proof anything. Instead, it was the image of tinsel, the flash of red, and the ribbon on the following page. And so I read.
   PMS - but not that kind of PMS - is a fresh term meaning 'perfect month syndrome', and it's safe to say that many of us suffer from it, brought about by wonderful Christmas memories. Others suffer from a contrasting condition brought about by bad Christmas memories, but it works the same way: we're clinging on to the past rather than trying to make fresh Christmas memories and letting things go as they will. Instead it's an attempt to recreate those perfect Christmasses (or hiding from Christmas and shunning every hint of it because you're lingering on the past).

   Sally Brown of Therapy That Works states that we 'look back on the Christmasses of our childhood through rose-tinted glasses, so when you grow up, you go into a frenzy of organisation and spending in a bid to recreate that 'special time'. But you're trying to recreate something that never really existed; it was never perfect - in reality, there were tantrums, tears and disappointments.' And when I stop to think about it, she's not wrong.
   I'm lucky, though - all I remember are the good things. In fact I had a damned good childhood, even though it turned out we never had any money, always went on holiday to Devon or Wales and stayed in my grandparents' caravan, and my parents argued a lot (which will happen when one of them is diagnosed with a debilitating disease and neither know how to handle it). I only have good memories, and I regret only one thing.
   We also had great Christmasses with loads of presents.

   The trouble with that last thought is that, alongside trying to recreate those 'perfect Christmasses', I can't stop at buying just one good gift for everyone. And my younger sister, who has very little money and two kids, is trying to give them the same kind of Christmasses we had, and she can't afford it. So she cuts immense corners in order to do so, rather than create her own Christmasses.

Is It So Bad?
   No. It isn't - as long as you don't let that obsession get in the way. I still try to make plans with everyone in my address book, but I'm lucky that I have such a small family and friends I can count on one hand because I have few gifts to buy and few plans to make. But I still make those plans because I want to soak up every ounce of Christmas, and because I need the escape from the stress of my business. As much as I love the work and love the thought that most of what I make through November and December will be given as gifts, it can quickly get on top of me. I'm not used to large volumes of orders, so I kind of fall apart come mid-November.
   But trying desperately to fit those plans in around other matters - especially a few things Seeg and I are going through this year thanks to Brexit that are more than simply 'getting in the way' - isn't the way to go. And neither is obsessing over not having 'enough' gifts for each individual person.

Take The Pressure Off
   For a lot of people, family is non-negotiable. They have to gather, and should someone decide to give it a miss one year, a few relatives may well take it as an offence. Well, if you need a small Christmas, take it, don't worry about causing people imagined insults, but if you do all get together and you're the host, rather than trying to plan games and events, take it one step at a time. Everyone visiting is just as stressed as you, and sometimes all they all really want is to sit down with some hot chocolate or mulled wine and have a catch-up. No fancy canapés, no copious amounts of booze or Christmas music - try to keep it simple. Make sure it's about the company.
   Christmas shopping fills so many with dread. My advice is to make use of the internet. If you're venturing out of the house, make an event of it, don't make it all about gifts, and if there's something in particular you want to get someone, buy it online and use click and collect - you're guaranteed to find it, beat the crowds and avoid delivery fees, but you can still browse for funsies while you're there. Alternatively, you could skip the shopping centres altogether and go online. I only head out to shopping centres once and that's just to look at decorations and soak up some festive feels. And, I won't lie, for the free chocolates in Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat while I'm there picking up things for our advent calendars.
   Christmas food - keep it simple, and make what you can in advance. Look to spices and seasonal produce rather than fancy meats - a lot of the time, it tastes the same. But yo can seriously dress up the same turkey you have every year with a new sauce, stuffing or spice rub. Cooking can even be theraputic, and even more so when you're not cooking to a deadline laid down by grumbling bellies. Make sauces, canapés, sides and desserts early and, for goodness sake, make use of your freezer.
   Christmas traditions and rituals - Christmas will still be Christmas without them. Even just skipping one can take the weight off your shoulders and make the whole holiday seem smoother and easier because you'll have broken the stressful cycle. You'll realise Christmas can still be 'perfect' without it.
   Christmas may be a time to gather and be social and you're reminded more often to think of others, but don't forget to take time for yourself. Try to pencil in some workouts, be it HIIT, yoga or even just a walk. The endorphins released during any kind of exercise are faster-acting and longer-lasting than food or alcohol. Or perhaps try a lovely festive bath with some fancy Lush products. I always take one after my last post-run of the season to celebrate the end of my work year.

   But most importantly this festive season: enjoy yourself. Don't let the magical time of year, with all the lights, tinsel and marvellous spices on the air, become tainted by papercuts, an over-flowing to-do list and debt. Because, in the end, it's just one day, a few weeks, a month, depending on how you want to look at it, and the more work you put into it, the higher the expectations of Christmas and the greater the opportunity for disappointment.
   Make each Christmas new - don't try to recreate what never existed. Make new memories and enjoy the run-up as much as the event itself.