Tuesday 31 October 2017

Happy Halloween!

   Yes, it's upon us, and in keeping with the modern spirit of the holiday, there's free shipping in my Etsy shop today (& night) only! That's for everyone, by the way. International and domestic, no code necessary ♥

   And look! I dressed up! Okay, so it wasn't much effort, but it's something! I'm also making a Halloweeny dinner for the family again this year - it's better than my jack-o-lantern bell peppers, which were let down by the lack of sauce on the black bean spaghetti. I was prioritising calories and trying to cut out as many carbs as I could, so flavour and texture suffered. But not this time. Though I'm not sure when it will be up.
   I also listed a new product today - a porg necklace - which I'm pleased with. But otherwise, I doubt there will be any new products listed for a while. Though for those who are unaware, I did recently add a custom korok necklace listing so you no longer have to contact me if you'd like a unique korok first!

Stay safe tonight, everyone!
And Happy Halloween! 

Monday 30 October 2017

Myth of the Wild 2017 Winter Wildlife Collection

    I love wildlife - you probably noticed. My DVD collection is full of nature documentaries, I've got pretty much everything Attenborough has done, and I research a lot for my writing, too. Can't create believable fantasy beasts if you don't know how animals evolve to their terrain, right? And so it's not surprising that my Etsy shop, Myth of the Wild, is full of animal necklaces. Tiny terrarium necklaces filled with miniature animals make the perfect gifts for animal lovers at Christmas, so I've spent the last few months stocking up as best I can. I've also been working on a new Winter Collection for 2017 with winter animals, and it's so hard to do it without resorting to obvious winter wildlife choices.
   But I think I've done it.
   As of this evening, the entirety of my 2017 Winter/Christmas jewellery collection is fully listed and available to purchase! Since October 22nd I've been listing pieces, including left overs from last year that I've decided not to repeat, and now it's all done!
   This year it's a collection of ten - count them, ten - pieces! I admit a number of them aren't new but they were so well-loved that I brought them back this year, like the snowman, robin and Christmas tree, but I've added a few new pieces, too: an ermine (short-tailed weasel in its winter coat), an arctic fox, and a revised version of the reindeer. There's still one of 2016's reindeer left.

   As usual, all jars are between 1.5cm to 3.5cm tall and 1cm to 2.5cm wide, necklace chains are silver plated and 16 inches, but you can request a free 2 inch extension, or purchase the sterling silver upgrade to change the chain to 925 silver.
   In keeping with collection tradition, while every piece is available for sale individually, there is also a single listing to purchase the entire 2017 Winter Collection as a whole, and at a discounted price, with the choice of having them as necklaces, or as free-standing ornaments as shown.


   There may only be three new pieces, and even then one of them is a revision, but I'm still so pleased with the outcome! Here's my arctic fox, ermine and reindeer a little closer:

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/551566736/arctic-fox-necklace-winter-wildlife?ref=shop_home_active_1 https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/565366115/ermine-necklace-winter-weasel-animal https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/551565968/reindeer-necklace-winter-terrarium

   There is limited stock of these three creatures this year due to their complexity, but if the demand is high enough I may make another batch. Otherwise, they're limited to 6 pieces each for 2017.
   Also, with Etsy's new gift wrapping feature, all of my listings now have a gift wrap option at checkout! Red-gold tissue paper, inside either a white or red pillow box, tied with either white-gold, white-silver or white-red baker's twine, and a strip of gold, silver or red washi tape - it's buyer's choice, mix and match! A picture will be available on listings soon, too.

   I'm really excited about Christmas this year's collection - I know it's not all new faces, but coming up with different winter animals is tough, and a few pieces are also favourites, both customer and personal, so I've kept those and the most festive of them in. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Sunday 29 October 2017

Halloween Jack-O-Lantern Canvas Cake

   I hate scary things. Through my late teens I watched a lot of seriously gruesome horror films to the point that even today I'm kind of de-sensitised to it, but it's safe to say I've also had my fill. I have no desire to do anything scary for Halloween.
   But I do love the theatrics of it all. Costumes, candles, carved pumpkins and ghost stories. It's really very fun.
   And yet I never really do anything with it.
   I don't dress up (though I'm amending that this year - I'm not going anywhere, it's really just for my own amusement), we don't get trick-or-treaters, we don't go to gatherings and Seeg and I don't even watch scary films as a couple. We watched Alien Covenant recently, which was the closest to 'scary' we've gotten in a long time, and it is, by my de-sensitised standards, immensely tame.
   But I do like to cook. At the very least, I like to play with the theatrics in that area. A few years ago I got lazy and just made some food pick flag things that I stuck in some store-bought pork pies as if they were from Mrs Lovett's, whereas last year I got far more imaginative with a stuffed jack-o-lantern bell pepper and Halloween vegetables, but screwed it up because I was so focused on keeping carbs down that I didn't make any sauce at all for the black bean spaghetti and it was all immensely dry and flavourless, barring the chicken-feta filling of the bell peppers themselves. Never have I appreciated the value of sauce more. Seriously. The meal was hugely nutritious and fun, and I urge you to try it, but I also strongly recommend some kind of sauce.

   Well, I'm still undecided with what I'm making this year, but I got in a little early with this morning's breakfast for funsies: a jack-o-lantern canvas cake. Chocolate cake, pumpkin-honey greek yogurt, and some salted caramel buckwheat. It may look bland, but it was delicious, and the pumpkin was perfectly sweetened by the honey.

   Okay, first, yes there is colouring in this, but it is natural. I added a drop of black food colouring to the chocolate cake to darken it. I used Sugarflair Black Extra gel colouring, but as you can see, I used so very, very little that the chocolate still comes through.
   I used the usual canvas cake base recipe, along with 2 tsp of Aduna cacao powder and the speck of natural black food colouring, and I mixed 1 tbsp of pumpkin puree into Yeo Valley greek honey yogurt (for ages to make sure it really combined), and topped, carefully, with a sprinkling of The Department of Breakfast's salted caramel crumble buckwheat mix.

   A note on natural black food colouring: some of you may be inclined to go with the latest trend of activated charcoal to colour it black. Don't. Activated charcoal binds to both micro- and macronutrients and prevents absorption, rendering the high-protein, high-fibre base and the carb toppings all entirely useless, and you'll get next to no nutrients from the cake. And then what's the point? You may as well have eaten cotton wool.

Halloween Jack-O-Lantern Mug Cake:
240 calories, 7g fat, 15.5g carbs, 6.5g fibre, 24.5g protein
Cake + cacao powder: 150 calories, 3g fat, 5g carbs, 6g fibre, 21.5g protein
Yogurt + pumpkin puree: 70 calories, 3.5g fat, 7.5g carbs (4g sugar), 2.5g protein
  - sprinkling of Department of Breakfast Salted Caramel Crumble, approx 5g: 20 calories, 3g (0.8g sugar) carbs, 0.5g fibre, 0.5g protein

Saturday 28 October 2017

Eco & Ethical Christmas Gift Guide

   Perhaps you, or someone on your Christmas gift list, is conscious of the impact our industrial and commercial-driven society is having on the world. Good. There should be more people out there like that. But that can make buying gifts tricky. Elephant poo paper? Yeah, you've done that. Handmade beeswax candles? You betcha. Fairtrade choccies? Check. What more can there be?
   A lot more.
   So I made this eco-friendly Christmas gift guide for the ethically-inclined. Fair to the planet, fair to the makers, from tea to jute yoga mats and organic cotton leggings, give them gifts they'll want and use without giving the planet cause to say "bah, humbug!"

1 - EcoYoga jute mat
2 - National Trust Winter Twilight Apple and Cinnamon Straws & Mince Pie Fudge
3 - Gossypium organic cotton fold-over yoga leggings
4 - She-y organic & ethical body cream
5 - Chilly's BPA-free water bottle, rose gold
6 - Charlotte Harley organic soy candle
7 - Urban bee keeping experience
8 - Baggu recycled canvas rucksack
9 - English Tea Shop organic Christmas tea gift tin

For eco-friendly stocking fillers, try Ethical Shop

Thursday 26 October 2017

Autumn Pumpkin Chicken Pie with Chestnut Crust

   This Sunday, the clocks go back. This means darker evenings, which is another of my favourite things about this time of the year. As much as I adore daylight and all the motivation it brings, I do also love the warm, orange glow of candles and light bulbs, and drawing the curtains to shut the world away and return to yourself after a busy day. Due to family arrangements, we usually eat at 5, which means that the clocks going back immediately changes the atmosphere at dinner - meals become more personal when you're not distracted by what's going on outside, and in our street, there's nothing to see but the neighbours across the road pressing their noses against their windows to watch everyone else, as though they think they're invisible themselves, or the occasional cat playing with a leaf. Also, I make the association of eating with the light on with Christmas. So that's another layer of excitement.
   I know. I'm 26.

   But while I may relish it, there are a lot of people that hate the early setting of the sun, and I can understand that. Which is why I'm sharing my ultimate SAD-easing meal in anticipation of Sunday's clock adjustment: autumn pumpkin & chicken pie with a crunch chestnut crust. And it's totally clean, contains great levels of protein and fibre, and counts as two of your 5 a day!

   Gorgeously creamy thanks to the coconut milk, and a beautiful colour, this pie was an immediate hit. Filling, comforting, with a lovely crunchy crust that does wonders with the soft, creamy chicken pumpkin filling, it's a fantastic dinner recipe for cold autumn evenings. And it has everything you need! With 100g of chicken, 100g of veg and 100g of pumpkin per serving, it has everything you need for a comfort meal and counts as two of your 5 a day! And you can take your time eating it - baking it in ramekins or serving bowls rather than transferring to a plate keeps the contents hot (and removes the need for a soggy pastry bottom), and the lid keeps that heat in, too.
   It is a little heavy, so you won't want to make it often, but it's a pleasure to eat on those evenings you might want a pick-me-up, or after an exhausting day, and your tummy will be full and content for the rest of the evening. What more can you want from an autumn dinner, when the nights draw in and the air gets cooler?

Makes 4x 14cm/5.5 inch pies
Chestnut Pastry Crust:
125g (1 cup) whole wheat flour
40g (1/2 cup) chestnut flour (I used Amisa)
1/2 tsp salt
50g (1/4 cup) coconut oil (soft, not liquid) (I used Vita Coco)
80ml (1/3 cup) skimmed milk

Pumpkin Chicken Pie Filling:
400g chicken breast
1 tsp of rosemary
1 tbsp coconut oil (for frying)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 brown onion
1.5 tsp salt
1 can (400g) pumpkin puree (I used Libby's, which can be found online in the UK)
200ml light coconut milk (half a can) (I used Blue Dragon)
200ml chicken stock
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
400g mixed veg (I used carrots, cauliflower & broccoli)

First, make the pastry.
1. Combine the wheat flour, chestnut flour and salt in a bowl, then add the coconut oil and rub together to combine. Then add the milk and mix with your hands until it all comes together. Add a tablespoon or two more milk if needed.

2. Roll it out to about 3mm thick and place one of your oven-safe pie bowls/dishes (about 14cm diameter) on top, upside down.
   To fit (as I did): cut around the edge of the bowl.
   To pleat/crimp the edges: cut 1cm out from the edge of the bowl.
   Do this for each pot, then cut leaves out of the remaining dough. Set aside until needed.

3. Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C/gas mark 6.

Now for the filling.
4. Boil a pan of water and add the chicken breast, heating over medium heat for 30 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, roast, boil or steam the vegetables to your liking, and set aside.

6. Fry the onion and garlic in a large pan for 5 minutes until the onions are soft.

7. Add the pumpkin puree and mix, then quickly add the coconut milk, chicken stock and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and stir to combine. Salt and pepper to your liking.

8. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

9. Meanwhile, drain the chicken and use two forks to shred it. Mix in some rosemary and set aside.

10. When the pumpkin mix has thickened, remove from the heat and mix in the vegetables and the shredded chicken.

11. Divide into oven-safe serving bowls and then place the crust on top.
   If you made it to fit, it will shrink just enough while baking.
   If you made it to pleat, wet the edge of the bowl and place your crust on top, then pattern the edges with a fork.

12. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes then leave to stand for a few minutes. The bowls will be hot, and the contents will be steaming hot. The lid will trap the heat.

For 1 pie (1/4 total mix): 490 cals, 29.5g protein, 38g carbs, 16.6g fat, 8.5g fibre; 2 of 5 a day
[Pastry: 240 cals, 4.5g protein, 26g carbs, 12.5g fat, 3.5g fibre]
[Filling: 250 cals, 25g protein, 12g carbs, 4g fat, 5g fibre]

Tuesday 24 October 2017

It's On Its Way...

   It may only be October 24th (and the last day for Christmas sock exchange sign ups!), but as far as I'm concerned, Christmas is right around the corner.
   I've got a long list of gift ideas, which makes a change, and have already started buying a few; I've got almost all my Christmas gift guides sorted, too, and they'll be going up every Saturday as of last week until December 2nd! I started, naturally, with a gift guide for animal lovers. I'm in the process of stocking up on Christmas favourites in Myth of the Wild, and I've got lots of recipes to test, too!

   But aside from giggling to myself whenever the lights have to be turned on because it's too dark to see by, or snuggling up in pyjamas, a dressing gown, thick socks and a hot mug of tea while watching my present TV binge (Stargate SG-1) because my head won't work with my writing anymore, I'm trying to keep my head. Admittedly I'm not trying very hard, but I am trying.

   So, despite having been in Christmas mode since the beginning of the month, I've managed to hold back, and only now have I begun listing Christmas products back in my shop. I have a new - or, rather, updated - Christmas collection, but as I still have some stock left over from last year, I'm listing the older pieces first. So far I've listed the polar bear necklace, the baby penguin necklace, A Christmas Carol book flower necklace, and A Christmas Carol paper snowflake necklace.
   I've also listed a new nerdy favourite - a Christmas Pepe! Little Pepe is wearing a Christmas hat and has moved into a snowy jar.

   I'll be listing a few pieces a day until the end of the month, and I'll compile them all here once they're all available for sale, but they'll all be appearing in the Christmas section of my shop and on my twitter as they go live. There will be a complete Christmas bundle listing which will include all 10 Christmas pieces from this year's collection (Pepe isn't involved, he's just there for the nerdically-inclined), but it will be limited to just 1, as always, with the option to have the set completed as necklaces or as free-standing ornaments. The duplicate pieces will all be sold separately as necklaces.

   I'm so excited! Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year! I love every single part of it - the music, the lights, the decorations, the food, the smells, the scarves, the presents! I also consider myself lucky to have a very small family and small group of friends because it means that social stress (and dealing with people you're obligated to see but don't really like or have anything in common with at all) is kept to a minimum.
   That said, my shop usually provides me with enough to compensate for that (it is just me making, packing, sending and dealing with all customer service!), so I always like to pencil in some Christmas outings with friends and family once a week to force myself to get away from it all. Being a carer all day every day means there's no such thing as a day off, and I'll do shop work the whole time I'm home, too. So I force myself to take a few hours away one day a week - go to a Christmas market, go to a shopping centre and look at all the Christmas decorations and displays, buy a few gifts and looots of Chocolate, go to some kind of wildlife park, things like that. Or perhaps have some friends over for board games and cake.
   I love to make a day out of decorating the house, too, it's so much freaking fun, but I do it only 2 weeks before Christmas - yes, I manage to hold off that long - and sales tend to start slowing down by that point. I usually keep all my truly festive fun for then, like wrapping presents, watching Christmas movies and so on. I'll break out the music, the food and the candles on December 1st at 6:30 am when I get up, no joke. It's officially Christmas at that point. But I prefer to keep movies and the handling of Christmas glamour until the decorations are up simply for ambience. And because otherwise I'll watch Christmas films to death and be sick of it by the middle of the month. You have to have boundaries, you know? 

   Otherwise, yes, I am keeping my head. Yes I am. Aside from testing a few Christmas recipes as early as today. I swear, since I started eating more, rather than an enemy, food has become so exciting! Even when you're still eating healthily - while being difficult, it can also be quite enjoyable to attempt to make healthier versions of not-so-healthy festive favourites. Not so much as an overall substitute, but more to fill the I'm-hungry-for-something-festive gaps in between and avoid putting on unnecessary weight.
   I know. It sounds boring, but I promise it isn't. And it makes a true indulgence of a full-fat, gorgeously sweet real mince pie all the better.

   For now, though, I'm keeping the recipes to myself, perfecting them and getting them ready for sharing at a more seasonal time, and listing Christmas jewellery slowly. And certainly not pre-ordering Legend of Zelda Christmas jumpers. Because that's just silly...

Sunday 22 October 2017

'Cook To Jhoom!' Just Jhoom! Cookbook Review

Price: £11.99 (presently £5 on sale)
Diet: vegetarian and meat options
Suitable for: novice cooks
Overall Rating:   ★★★★☆

   Cook to Jhoom! is the Just Jhoom! cookbook. Filled with healthy versions of Indian favourites, it's a great addition to any kitchen, and not just those trying to find lighter options of their favourite Indian dishes. Using easy to find ingredients and simple cooking methods, the Just Jhoom! cookbook can add a little more variety to your meal rotation, even if you're tight for time.

   Cook to Jhoom! is a very versatile cookbook. It doesn't present entire meals, instead it provides recipes for mains and sides that can all easily be reduced for lunches, made en masse for meal prep, or mixed and matched for a main meal. For example, I combined the lamb kebabs with the spicy sweet potato wedgies, the curried couscous with the chicken masala, while I halved the carrot and ginger soup for two days' lunch, and reduced the egg bhurji from 4 to 1 for lunch.

Carrot Ginger Soup

   Though these are all clean and healthy dishes, the flavour and textures are not compromised. Rather than resorting to a takeaway or ready meal - which is where most such dishes would be sourced from in the UK - the simple act of cooking it yourself makes them much healthier. You are in full control over the ingredients, the quality of them and the portion sizes, and the method of cooking is likely to be cleaner, too. That's not to say you can't enjoy a takeaway, and nor is it to say that all takeaways are poor quality or deeply unhealthy. But by making them yourself, you can also adjust the level of spiciness, increase the veg, introduce protein where there may not have been any before, reduce the oil and saturated fats, swap in healthier ingredients or give it your own twist.

Chicken Masala & Curried Couscous with peas

   None of the ingredients in these recipes are hard to find at all - my local Tesco Express stocked everything I needed - and none of the herbs and spices are sold in single-use quantities, ie once you buy a jar of paprika, that will last you a long while. There's also no need for new kitchen equipment, and anything listed that you don't have can be replaced by something else. For example, I have no hand-held blitzer or soup-maker, but a blender works just fine, so when I made the carrot ginger soup, I cooked the onions then tossed everything into a blender before cooking on the stove once mixed.

Egg Bhurji

   This seems to be a real rarety in cookbooks. Only weight-loss cookbooks seem to share a nutritional table, and Cook to Jhoom! is not sold as a weight-loss cookbook, but simply a healthy one. And yet it provides a clear and concise nutritional table for every recipe, from sides to mains and dessert.
   It lists calories, fat, carbs, sugars, fibre, protein and notable vitamins and minerals, making it easy if you're calorie-counting or going low-carb. It's true that I've recently abandoned such diet methods because it's leaving me exhausted and immensely miserable due to under-nourishment (because I took it too far), but after two years of calorie-counting and looking for such info in every recipe book, I noticed it here immediately, and was really quite pleased for it. And while I'm not low-carb anymore, rather I'm actively trying to eat more, the nutritional tables have helped me to ensure I do so.

Lamb Kebabs & Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges

   Cook to Jhoom! is not a challenging cookbook, but it provides wonderful flavour and variety, especially if you are trying to lose weight or cooking on a diet. Spices, would you believe it, spice up dishes. They create and improve flavour, they can dress up boring ingredients - there are only so many times you can eat plain chicken before losing your mind and clucking like one - and it extends to veg, too, like spicy roasted cauliflower.
   The recipes are easy to follow, the ingredients easy to find, and the results immensely satisfying. Being able to so easily mix and match keeps the cookbook relevant for longer, too, and you'll easily find new sides to accompany other meals that may be in your usual home-cooking rotation.
   I highly recommend it, and if you're using the Just Jhoom! workout, why not indulge in a new menu while you're at it?

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Animal Lovers' Christmas Gift Guide

   Ahh, Christmas shopping. It's a hard time of year. For some people on your list, you get fifty ideas at just the mention of their name. For others...it takes fifty minutes to get one idea while amassing everything you know about them. My list is quite short - I have a small group of friends and a small family, and the same goes for Seeg's side - but that doesn't mean it's easy.
   It's for this reason that I like to put gift guides together. I try to curate them based on the interests of the people I struggle with the most in the hope that I might find something as I go. But I also just enjoy making them. So I put in the best effort I can in the hopes of helping you out, too.

   So this is the first of this year's compilations: a Christmas gift guide for animal lovers. Filled with wildlife gifts for him, for her, and for the home. Biscuits, blankets, jewellery, ornaments - hopefully something on this list will give you (and me) an idea for the perfect gift for the animal lover in your life. Perhaps it will even be something from this very list!
   Plus, a bonus link to a website great for animal and wildlife stocking fillers! 

1 - Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 desk diary
2 - Handmade sika deer wildlife terrarium necklace
3 - Highland cow enamel pin
4 - Hand-iced woodland animal biscuits; mix & match
5 - Zoo Keeper for a Day (Cotswold Wildlife Park)
6 - Wrendale Designs 'Night Before Christmas' fox mug
7 - Sparrow Flight fleece throw blanket
8 - Short-eared owl painting on wood slice
9 - Raku ceramic handmade emperor penguin sculpture

And for the best animal-lover's stocking fillers: London Natural History Museum Shop

Sunday 15 October 2017

No More Trouble Zones - 2 Weeks Later

   After a month of dance cardio, it's been really nice to go back to weights with No More Trouble Zones these past two weeks. It's tough, it really is, and the first circuit is just...disgusting, but I've always hated conventional cardio and prefer compound weight moves instead. I feel strong, I feel powerful, and I'm burning calories both during and after my workout, rather than just during like you do with cardio.
   The circuits are as I'd hoped: different enough to one another that you can pick and choose if you're looking for a shorter workout, and so that you can avoid boredom if you use the full 45 minute workout.
   Each circuit focuses on a specific area of the upper and lower body and uses super-sets to max out the chosen muscle groups in compound moves. This means that you're working for 6 minutes straight on just two parts of the body - so when I tell you that the first circuit is shoulders (and quads and glutes), you'll understand what I mean when I say 'disgusting' - and then generally don't go back to it again, at least not so intensely. As an example, it's shoulders first, and it hurts, but the second circuit is chest (and abs), and while that does still tap into the shoulders, it's subtle enough that you're not going to notice. Or that biceps (and glutes) are circuit 3, and they do get  little involved in triceps (and quads) which are circuit 4.
   Fortunately, though the idea of 7 6-minute circuits is brutal, the final three are actually quite bearable as they take place on the mat. That does mean hollow mans, supermans, leg raises and planks, but they're far tamer and get your heart rate down a little.

   I used the DVD all the way through on Saturdays, when I have the time for a longer workout, while on Monday and Wednesday, I arranged the circuits into two groups of four, and generally used the seventh circuit as a voluntary bonus, bringing me to about 25 minutes a day.
   Monday I used circuits 3, 2, 4 and 6, and Wednesday I used circuits 1, 3, 5, and 4, and Saturday I used either the lot, or the first four circuits and then swapped the last three on the mat for three from Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism for some cardio. Which I hate, but I opted for one calisthenics circuit and two kickboxing, so it wasn't so bad.

   Resistance workouts never fill me with dread - I love it, be it hand weights, kettle bells or my own body weight - but that doesn't mean they aren't tough. But that has left me feeling stronger these past two weeks, and I'm walking taller for it.
   And, yes, I've been eating carbs and regaining my energy. My strength has been flagging this year, and the weights I've used have dropped because I just can't do it. With fresh eating habits, I'm attempting to regain that strength that I found so hard for, and lost because I prioritised an obsession with fat-loss over a desire for health and strength. It's not much fun drifting through life, counting calories and worrying over every gram of carbs all while pushing yourself through stupidly intense workouts every other day. If you don't fuel, you don't gain. Food doesn't make you fat, excessive consumption and laziness does!

   I'll report back in three weeks!

Saturday 14 October 2017

Mythical Inktober 2017 - Week 2

Inktober has slipped away from me a bit this week, I've been really busy with prepping my shop for Christmas, creating new stock, updating old stock, planning marketing and so on - it's a hard job, so when something had to go on the back burner, Inktober was inevitable.
That said, after missing 3 days I did put more effort into day 14, though I regret it a little because it's a wyvern, not a dragon, and the wyvern is further down the #MythicalInktober prompts list. That said, though, I still think it's good.

Anyway, I'm also going to take this moment to let you know that:
1 - there's free worldwide shipping in my Etsy shop until Monday, no minimum order
2 - sign-ups for my Christmas mini stocking exchange close in 10 days

Day 7: Banshee

Day 8: Gargoyle
Based on the gargoyles from my debut book, The Archguardians of Laceria.

Day 9: Pegasus

Day 10: Satyr

Day 14: Dragon

Friday 13 October 2017

Friday Favourites

This week has been crazy. I've struggled to keep up with Inktober, but rather than get stressed out by it, I let it slide, and focused on restocking my Etsy shop for Christmas. 20 koroks, kodama, Totoros, and lots of robins and baby penguins, too. It's been hectic, but kind of enjoyable to be so busy. I hit a wall with my writing so it's been good to be able to back off of it and focus on something else rather than 'back off' but continue obsessing over paper rather than a laptop.
Seeg has been replaying Sleeping Dogs - I'm not sure what put it in his head, but I'm grateful, because it's such a great game, so it's been a pleasure to watch him play it through again. He finished it last night, but there's still DLC which we didn't have the first time around, so yay new content.
Also, Graze's cocoa & vanilla protein flapjacks. It's hardly a new thing, but I've been obsessing over them lately. I never used to allow myself such an indulgence - y'know, carbs - but my recent efforts to amend my destructive eating habits have opened new doors I didn't even realise were closed! Try them yourself - get a free Graze box with the code KIMW2WW6P

Oh, and don't forget to sign up to my Christmas sock exchange to make, send and receive a mini Christmas stocking in November! Anyone can participate, though you can opt out of an international partner, but the sign-ups close on the 24th of October.

Feather gloss Lisette leggings by Fabletics   ♥   Graze cocoa vanilla flapjack
Silver twig ring by SongsofInkandSteel   ♥   Sleeping Dogs

Thursday 12 October 2017

Blue String Pudding (With No Artificial Colours)

   I love the Clangers. I do. I didn't grow up with it, but my mum did, and when her disability got worse, I found myself listening to and watching the things she liked. Not exclusively - she never liked sci-fi or fantasy, that was my dad, and I can't live without the stuff. And she did like reality TV, which I just can't stand. But when it comes to music, I'm rather fond of Human League and Genesis, just as she was, and I know she was still fond of the Clangers and Bagpuss. I bought the DVD of the original series years ago and fell in love with it. Then they revived the series in 2015 and my sister bought me the DVDs and I fell in love all over again.
   I love the Soup Dragon, and the music trees, and the blue string pudding. I wanted to make it forever, but I didn't want to use fake colouring, and I had frankly no idea how to make string without spaghetti. So it never happened.
   But the idea stayed with me, and upon the discovery of butterfly pea flower, which is used as a tea in many Eastern countries, it was suddenly back on the table. And, early this year, I came up with how to make the string: spiralising!
   But either I never had any suitable fruit on hand or any butterfly pea flower whenever the thought struck, so, again, it didn't happen.
   Until my neighbours brought over some pears from their pear tree. Most were pear-shaped (in a good way), but there was one that looked more like a banana. It was long and slender, with no bulbous end - no 'pear' shape - and I knew right then it was perfect. It would give constantly long spiralised pieces. So, because I had butterfly pea flower, I got right down to it!

   This Clangers' blue string pudding recipe is perfect for children because there's no added sugar and no artificial colouring. Butterfly pea flower is safe consumption and a natural blue food colouring, while the pear itself provides the flavour and the sweetness. In terms of taste, the flower isn't noticeable.
   This recipe uses 1 whole pear, which yields quite a big dish. If serving children, it could comfortably serve 2; but because it is only 1 pear, the entire yield only counts as 1 of your 5 a day. The pear is not baked, either, so the sugar is not concentrated, meaning the water content in the fruit remains and lessens the impact of natural sugars on the teeth.

   Now I need to make Soup Dragon soup. And see if I can be original and make it without peas or spinach...

1 pear
1 teaspoon powdered butterfly pea flower
50ml water

1. Mix the teaspoon of butterfly pea flower into the water, and set aside.

2. Peel the pear.

3. Run it through a spiraliser. Use a hand-held or counter-top, with a thick/average noodle blade. Try, if you can, to use a slender pear. You're more likely to find these in farmer's markets or independent orchards than you are in supermarkets, because they're not 'perfect'. The thinner the pear, the better; my pear measured about 10cm, and the longest 'string' was about 60cm. No joke - that's what spiralising does. A more pear-shaped pear will give long 'string' from the centre, but the bulbous end will yield much shorter pieces.

4. Transfer into a wide, shallow dish.

5. Stir the blue water, then pour over the pear strings as evenly as you can. Move them around so that they can soak it up. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes.

6. Drain the pear strings and serve. A dollop of whipped cream is wonderful, and also makes for a smoother, lighter blue.

Monday 9 October 2017

Autumn Evenings Canvas Cake - Fig & Blueberry

   Yeah, yeah, I know, I posted a fig and chocolate porridge recipe last week and, what do you know, it's figs again. But I don't care. I made a pumpkin spice canvas cake last week, and now figs are in. And anyway, aren't you tired of pumpkin spice yet?
   This super simple fig & blueberry canvas cake has gorgeous evening tones - you know, the pink/purple/red sunsets streamed with gorgeous noctilucent clouds  - and the subtle sweetness of autumn fruits. It's absolutely delicious. And you only need 1 fig and some blueberries. I actually only had plain yogurt on hand, so I used 1/2 a teaspoon of freeze dried blueberry powder and mixed it in, but a blueberry yogurt or plain yogurt with blueberry gloop will work just as well, just churn it all up together!

   Made with the basic canvas cake base recipe, along with the pink flesh of one fig, scooped out and mashed into the mixture, 50g St Helen's Farm goat's milk yogurt with 1/2 teaspoon of Arctic Power wild blueberry powder, topped with 2 slices of fig (cut from the middle of the original fig before scooping out the remaining flesh) and a handful of blueberries.

Autumn Evenings Mug Cake:
235 calories, 15g carbs, 6g fibre, 24g protein, 1 of 5 a day
Cake + fig: 150 calories, 3g fat, 5g carbs, 6g fibre, 21.5g protein
Yogurt + blueberry powder: 70 calories, 3.5g fat, 7.5g carbs (4g sugar), 2.5g protein
  - 8-10 Blueberries: 15 calories, 3g (2g sugar) carbs, 0.75g fibre
  - Fig: 1 slice of the original fig; nutrition already calculated into the cake
Counts as 1 of your 5 a day

Sunday 8 October 2017

Just Jhoom! DVD Review

Price: £10
Length: 4x 4 minute dance routines + warm up & cool down
Workouts: All-over body (cardio, abs, strength)
Suitable for: Everyone
Overall Rating:   ★★★★☆
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★☆☆☆   Results:  ★★★☆☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   I've always been impressed by dance. I'm not sure what it is, it's just something that always enraptures me, especially if it's synchronised. The more feet, the more bodies, the more engrossed I become. Lord of the Dance is a guilty pleasure of mine.
   And while dance has never been something I wanted to do with my life, I can't resist a good dance workout. It's where I started when trying to lose weight because I thought it was either run, swim, cycle or dance, while weights were reserved for men. My goodness, how wrong I was. But even so, after four years of fitness blogging and trying so very many different things, dance has remained a favourite, if one I don't indulge very much.
   So when I saw The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - up until a month ago, the closest thing to a Bollywood film I'd seen - and the dance at the end, I had to find out if there was anything on the fitness market that could scratch the sudden itch.
   Well, there were. And they all looked the same.
   But then I came across Just Jhoom!

   Just Jhoom! is a Bollywood dance workout mirroring the wonderful routines in Bollywood films, which are sure to be the very reason you're reading this review. But while Just Jhoom! promises 'Indian dance moves, Bollywood music and yoga-inspired strengthening exercises to make sure you get a really good workout without even realising you are working out', from a look across the market, every competitor claims the same.
   Most 'Bollywood' dance workouts out there are just belly dancing, and if that's what you're after, then that's great. But if you're looking for a workout featuring the high-energy dance routines you've seen in Bollywood films, then Just Jhoom! is for you.

   I've used a lot of different dance workouts over the years, so basic moves are ingrained. I pick them up pretty fast. That said, the moves on this DVD are quite unlike any other I've used, and yet I was still able, for the most part, to skip the instructional break-down and learn from the routine instead. But I'm the type that learns by doing. There were, unsurprisingly, a few movements that I couldn't grasp without instruction, such as the Boomerang in Ainvayi Ainvayi, the second routine in the workout, and I did have to return to the initial break-down to work it out. I grasped it quickly after that.
   But it is so important to remember with dance workouts that you're not performing it, so if you don't get it right, it doesn't matter, just keep moving, and as weights aren't involved, form isn't a safety issue either. As long as you keep moving, you'll still get a workout, and every time you do it, you will get a better grasp over the moves.

   What I find works best with new dance workouts is this: focus on one routine at a time. Replay the first a few times over, get to grips with it - they usually only last a few minutes, so it'll be over before you really get a chance for it to sink in. I like to run through a single routine about three or four times before trying the next. On my first use of this DVD, I played the first routine 3 times, then the second routine 3 times, then I repeated the first again, but once, and then the second once. By that point, I was relatively comfortable with the moves, I was having more fun because I wasn't flailing around cluelessly, and I was sweating so much more than I expected. And that also secured me a 32 minute workout (each routine is 4 minutes long without instruction, give or take 10 seconds). I didn't feel the need to try the third routine until my third use of the DVD, and the fourth routine on my fifth use. This minimised frustration and kept the DVD fresher for longer, rather than trying to take it all on at once. I recommend this method for every dance workout DVD.

   Something that seems to go over the head of the larger fitness titles is that, while instruction is undeniably important for dance workouts, you don't want to have to go through that instruction every single time you use it. After four or five uses, you know the moves, and having to be reintroduced to them after every minute of a 10 minute workout, it slows that workout down, drags it out, and is kind of frustrating when you just want to work in some fun cardio through dance and you're being stopped so frequently. You can't ignore it and keep dancing, either, because you'll be out of time with the music, which leaves it all culminating into an unbroken two minutes right at the end. It is, quite simply, boring.
   But indie workouts seem to understand this. Just Jhoom!, like Kukuwa, has provided instruction and a break down of the movements, but they've kept them separate from the routine itself. This means that new users can get the instruction they need, while more experienced users can skip it and get straight down to business. This also means that more time is put into the routine itself - rather than 2 minutes you're given 4 or 5, and you can cycle through them all consecutively without a break. It also means that the impact remains high, and that in turn means a better sweat, better burn, and renders the workout itself more versatile. I put together a HIIT style workout with Kukuwa and Pilates a few months ago, and due to the fact that Just Jhoom! has separated their instruction from their routines, you could swap Kukuwa for Just Jhoom! and use the same system for an even better, more varied workout.
   The instruction precedes each routine on its own DVD chapter, meaning that it can be skipped with the 'next chapter' button on your remote, making it absolutely perfect if it's your sixth or so run through and you just want to get on with it. The routines themselves are uninstructed but do contain cues for changing moves. The instruction sections themselves are slow and clearly explained, breaking the moves down into feet, hops, arms and flourishes.

   With each routine's instruction nestled in its own preluding DVD 'chapter', hitting the 'next chapter' button on your remote takes you straight to the dance workout routines themselves which come straight from Bollywood movies. This DVD was made in conjunction with Raj Films, which means that the routines you're doing could very well be from the films you saw that made you think "I want to do this!"
   Aside from two warm ups - mobility and movement - there are four dance routines at 4-4.5 minutes each. They're non-stop, slowing down only on the arrival of slower moves, and while the routines do vary in intensity, the first isn't exactly slow. They're each quite different from each other in terms of both music and movement, which makes the entire DVD quite flavourful.
   The movements are unlike other dance workouts, and while previous experience always helps simply for improved co-ordination, the unique nature of the movements means even experienced people will have to stop and look through the instruction chapters. Focus on one routine at a time, learn it have fun with it, and only then should you move on. And, as the DVD's introduction itself says, sometimes your hands, arms and legs don't speak to each other, so focus on getting the footwork down before adding in any arms or you'll only confuse yourself.

Cool Down
   The cool down section is worth mentioning because it features a few yoga poses - basic but powerful ones like Warrior II and Tree. It's actually quite an effective collection, and even though it's 'only dance', I recommend taking five minutes to go through the cool down. You'll be surprised how often your abs engage in some of the moves, there's a lot of leaning involved, and also some squats in some places, so you definitely want to make sure you get a good stretch in afterwards.

   Just Jhoom! is a wonderful dance workout DVD. The use of real Bollywood dance routines means that the reason you searched the DVD down remains a focus throughout the workout, rather than a disappointment, and the fact that the instruction is separate from the routines is a very valuable detail that you will appreciate very quickly if you've used any other dance workout DVD in the past. It also makes Just Jhoom! a viable option for a Pilates-Dance HIIT workout, which can really shake it up once you've grown tired of the DVD as-is. Read my Pilates-Dance HIIT post here to find out how to do this effectively.
   I'm really hoping that Just Jhoom! release a new volume in the future, because four dance routines simply isn't enough. It's fun while it lasts, and they are nicely varied, but four is four, and the DVD will become stale. After 4 weeks of use, I was glad to move on to something else. That's not to say I'll never use it again, because it makes for a great supplement to follow a resistance workout - it's good cardio, it's not too long, and it's so much fun that it won't feel like work when you're already exhausted.

Friday 6 October 2017

Mythical Inktober 2017 - Week 1

   Despite the amount of work I have on my shoulders at this time of the year, and the fact that, while my writing has been going well, I have recently managed to write myself into a corner so I need to really think about how to back up and out of it, I decided to take on Inktober.
   Unlike the past years, where I only made one drawing a week - though they were pretty good - I decided to try it every day with smaller doodles using Frenone's Mythical Inktober prompts. And I also decided not to freak out if I missed a day. Day 4 was spent painting reindeer for my new Christmas/Winter jewellery collection coming out at the end of this month (after left-overs have been relisted from last year's, as of about the middle of the month), so I missed Cactus Cat. But I doubt it would have been worth seeing.
   Otherwise, I've done Days 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, which are all shown below. I've been tweeting them every day with the #MythicalInktober hashtag, but wanted to compile them here at the end of each week.

Day 1: Moon Rabbit

Day 2: Dryad

Day 3: Valkyrie

Day 5: Siren

Day 6: Dire Wolf

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Autumn Crunch Breakfast Cake

   Autumn. I love it. I've told you that. It's the prettiest time of the year, and so quiet and peaceful. The mornings are the best - I can't wait for the first frost! I've been really enjoying dressing up my breakfasts lately, so when autumn rolled around, I had to combine the two!
   So, on Suday morning, I made a super-healthy breakfast mug cake with an autumnal theme, and it was both delicious and fun!
   Yes, a healthy mug cake is possible, I blogged about it just this morning: canvas cake, healthy mug cake recipe.

   This cake was made with the canvas cake breakfast base with the addition of 2 tablespoons of pureed pumpkin and 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice, topped with 50g St Helen's Farm goat's milk yogurt combined with 1 teaspoon of Hive & Keeper raw honey, then embellished with 1/3 punnet of a Graze honeycomb & almond protein topper and 10g (three squares) of Green & Black's white chocolate, melted down, spread thin, semi-cooled and cut with sugarcraft plungers, before being coloured with edible gold & red lustre.

Autumn Crunch Mug Cake: 330 calories, 23g carbs, 26.5g protein
Cake + pumpkin purée: 150 calories, 3g fat, 5g carbs, 6g fibre, 21.5g protein
Yogurt + raw honey: 75 calories, 3.5g fat, 7.5g carbs (4g sugar), 2.5g protein
  - Graze honeycomb & almond: 50 calories, 2g fat, 6g (3g sugar) carbs, 0.75g fibre, 1.5g protein
  - Green & Black's white chocolate: 55 calories, 4g fat, 5g carbs (sugar), 1g protein