Wednesday 31 October 2018

Inktober 2018 - Aria

   Happy Halloween!
   I was a little stuck for the last drawing of Inktober - actually, that's not true, I had an excellent idea, but I decided against it because I feel the description in the book is more than good enough, and the last thing I want to do is cut off a reader's imagination. Faces are one thing - creatures and curses are another. So I decided to leave readers to their imagination, since that's one of the best parts of reading fantasy, and turned instead towards something simpler but still related to The Zi'veyn. Here we have little Aria, dressed up as a ditchling. She's tied twigs to her head, smeared herself in mud, and stuck leaves all over her dress for camouflage.
   Seeg says it's a bit too busy, and I think he's probably right, but it's what I wanted and it's come out well enough. And I think it's appropriate enough for Halloween.

Faber Castell PITT superfine pen
ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip Brush Marker Pens

Sunday 28 October 2018

New Wildlife Necklaces!

I've been listing lots of new pieces in Myth of the Wild lately - mostly renewing older pieces from the exhibit, but most of those are up now so I'm about to begin listing brand new pieces! I'm so glad I can increase my variety this Christmas - it's always such a stress trying to balance the shop with my writing and caring for my mum, and my shop usually falls by the wayside (unless I sell something, then the order is given priority, of course), but when Christmas comes around, I have no choice but to let my writing suffer instead. Fortunately the exhibit has done the job for me this year, and new new pieces will be up very soon!

If you follow me on twitter or my shop on Facebook, you'll have seen most of the new pieces as they went up ever day, but if not, here's a round-up of the best! To see all of them, check out my Etsy shop, sorted by 'most recent'. All my necklaces are now available as standing desk ornaments, and so can be purchased without chains or hooks - you need only select your preferred from the drop-down menu before adding to card! It seems like an obvious step, but one I hadn't thought to make until now despite the number of people requesting it of particular pieces. This means that they make wonderful wildlife gifts now for everyone.

And remember: I'm still happy to accept custom orders until November 24th - if this date changes, it will be announced in the 'announcements' box at the top of my shop as well as on twitter and Facebook.

Friday 26 October 2018

Friday Favourites

BRR. It has been a cold week. And a stressful week, but it's ending on a higher note than it began. And higher still if the postman gets here. It's Red Dead Redemption 2 release day. I've cleared my weekend for it because, aside from family troubles, I've been working pretty hard this week. I had a little bump of Etsy orders to fill, which has been great and has kept me busy and my mind occupied, so I've more than earned the break. Though I'm also riddled with guilt because I got a custom order that I put 2 weeks into, was happy with, sent on to the customer and suddenly feel like I could have done better. I'm contemplating what to do about it, because I'm not satisfied letting it lie. Silence is approval, but in this case, I seriously doubt it. That will be the sole exception to my weekend off.

Otherwise, Grenade recently released gingerbread carb killa bars. When it comes to protein bars, I am of a mind that if it looks like a chocolate bar, smells like a chocolate bar and tastes like a chocolate bar, it's a chocolate bar. Carb Killas, however, are my exception. It's my go-to if I want to be naughty without too much guilt. Pulsin's chocolate chip & peanut raw brownie is another favourite, but that's made of dates and wholesome things like that. This is chocolate. And while I usually only have one or two bars in the house, which will sit in the cupboard for a couple of months before finally being reached for (that's strength), I actually have four of these hidden away...
And also also, this tiny hot water bottle from Aussie. It's adorable. I got it for free from Superdrug last year - if I'm honest, it was the reason I bought my first bottle of Aussie shampoo. I'm glad I did - it's gorgeous. Seeg occasionally steals it. The shampoo, not the bottle.

Aussie miniature hot water bottle   ♥   Red Dead Redemption 2

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Toffee Apple Porridge

   This has been a kind of hard few days. There are some things I've not talked about, and still don't wish to until there's anything solid, and while one in particular was moving along well a few weeks ago, a few wrenches have been thrown into the cogs and we're not sure what's happening anymore. Then there's the matter of my mother's health, which is getting worse, and is something I've not really talked about either because it just upsets me too much.
   There. How about that - an introduction about nothing! On the plus side, my book is moving towards completion (this draft, anyway), I've been listing lots of new things in my Etsy shop both from the exhibit and brand new pieces I've made, and I'm making some parsnip and chestnut soup for dinner today. It's the little things.
   Otherwise, autumn is well and truly setting in, with the temperature dropping at last into single digits! Pull out the jumpers, fill your hot water bottles and stack up the books! If The Zi'veyn isn't among them, then shame on you. And, finally, I can openly eat porridge for breakfast every day. I mean, I did anyway, but now there's no stigma. And what better way to start a late October morning?

   Toffee apple is a wonderful autumn staple. What makes it better? Warmth. What makes that even better? When you've just gotten out of a warm, toasty bed and stepped into the frigid autumn morning that lurks outside the covers.
   So, naturally, toffee apple porridge was the next step in my tangled little mind. But it has to be healthy, of course - if your breakfast is healthy, you're more likely to keep eating healthily throughout the day - and dates are the way to do that.
   Dates are a wonderful replacement for toffee or caramel sauce - but you have to pick your dates. Medjool dates, the big ones, are very caramel, whereas the smaller dates like Sayers seem to be more toffee, with a darker colour, thicker texture and not quite as sweet flavour. Most people use medjools, but I often used Sayer dates in my porridges. Mostly because that's just what I have on hand. But it works here! So instead of adding sugar to your toffee apple, add dates.
   This porridge is warm, not too sweet, delicious and two of your five a day!

Serves 1
30g rolled oats
20g protein powder
100ml water
100ml skimmed milk
30g dates
50ml boiled water
1 apple

Toffee Sauce
Chop the dates and put them in a saucepan with 50ml hot water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer the dates with a little of the water to a food processor or blender and reduce to a puree. Add the remaining water and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.
For thicker sauce: use less water, or soften a few more dates and puree them into the mixture.
For thinner: add more water.

Overnight Oats
1. Thoroughly combine the oats and whey, if using, in a bowl (or shaker bottle). Stirring all the while, add 100ml skimmed milk (or pour into the bottle and shake to combine, then transfer to a bowl). Set in the fridge overnight.

2. Reheat in the morning, if desired, by adding 50ml water and microwaving for 1 minute, stir, then heat for 20-30 seconds until desired texture is reached. Move on to step 4 and return to the microwave.

Oats on the Hob
1. Boil 150ml water

2. Combine the oats and whey, if using, in a pan. Stirring all the while, add the milk, then 100ml of the freshly boiled water.

3. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Meanwhile, core your apple. Cut and reserve a few slices for garnish, then peel and chop the rest. Add to a second pan with the remaining 50ml boiled water. Bring to a boil, then simmer to soften.

5. Once the apple is soft and the porridge is done, stir half of your toffee sauce into the porridge pan, then add the softened apple along with any remaining water, and continue to simmer together until desired texture.

6. Transfer to a bowl, arrange your apple slices, then add your toffee sauce. Add honey if desired, and serve.

• I used Whitworth's stoned Sayer dates
• I used Pulsin Premium whey

With whey; without nuts
372 cals, 2.5g fat (0.5g sat), 61g carbs (36.5g natural sugars), 7.5g fibre, 26.5g protein, 2 of 5 a day

Friday 19 October 2018

Friday Favourites

This week has been a busy one. There's chaos in my book right now, as the second of the trilogy is almost finished and there are a few rather serious notes to end on, and I've been working on my shop consistently, too. It's also been wonderfully cold! So it's been great to be so focused. That's one of the many things I love about winter and autumn - it's cool, even cold, so there's no excuse not to get things done! When it's hot, I tend to melt, but when it's cold, I'm a busy, busy bee!
I've been working on porridges, too - I'm so pleased, I had lots of ideas and I've managed to do them all bar one, simply because I haven't worked out what I want to do with the rest of the key ingredients once I open them. But I have two new Christmas porridges and a couple more autumn recipes that are all ready to post! I'm always so happy when porridge goes well - I'm a jinx in the kitchen, you see.

Red Dead Redemption 2 comes out one week today, and Seeg and I have been psyched for months. So much so that our Saturday night movies have taken a spaghetti western turn. First we watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was much funnier than expected and has aged very, very well, and then we moved on to the Man With No Name trilogy - Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and, of course, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. They're all vaguely related, but there's not really any continued story. If anything, I got the sense that the final film was a prequel, purely for the whole poncho/cigar thing at the end. I have to say, though, we had low expectations and we were pleasantly surprised. The MWNN trilogy got better (and longer, oy) with each film, and we're both really glad we've seen them. Tomorrow night is True Grit, but next Saturday I have the sneaking suspicion that we will be scrapping movie night in favour of some serial gaming...
Also, how amazing is Nordic Ware?! I just discovered them, so I feel some serious baking needs coming on soon. It's expensive, but the designs are so incredible that I may have to splurge. On just one or two, of course - I never bake anymore - but I need some.
 And I loved the cocoa beans so much I had to include them in a porridge bowl, which was perfect for Chocolate Week!

Man With No Name Trilogy   ♥   Mustard Yellow jumper

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Chocolate Week - Chocolatier's Porridge

   Chocolate Week. A UK celebration of fine chocolate, not an excuse to scoff Dairy Milk, but to appreciate real chocolate - cook with it, taste a variety of bean-to-bar, and give artisanal and small-scale brands a chance to shine. My personal favourite is CoCo Chemistry, based in Lacock, and I had the pleasure to visit their store last Christmas. Their peanut and caramel chocolate salami is to die for. Try now, thank me later.
   So, in celebration of chocolate week, I decided to create a less sweet and more flavourful chocolate porridge - what else, right? - using raw cacao powder as both ingredient and garnish, the favourite cocoa nibs, some dark salted chocolate and some enrobed whole cocoa beans. This is not a porridge for your corner shop scoffer. This is dark, this is decadent - and, would you believe, healthy. Without all that added sugar, and with a focus on the actual cocoa beans and pre-refinement processes, you're getting a lot of the goodness the tabloids say all chocolate bars contain (though rarely do). And, while whole cocoa beans might sound like something you would have to source professionally and in bulk, that's not really the case anymore. Whole cocoa beans, chocolate-covered and otherwise, are becoming more common in both cooking stores and health food shops. Though I admit I sourced mine from Hotel Chocolat.

   This porridge is low in sugar, rich in antioxidants and all the good things about chocolate. It is dark, and sweetened only with that dash of melted chocolate - you can add a sweetener if you choose to, or keep it pure. It's much healthier than it looks, I promise! And the added whey - which is always optional - will keep you full for much longer and contribute to your protein needs (which should be about 1g for every 1lb of body weight). I've listed the brands I've used in the Notes section below, as always, but this post is not sponsored by any of them. You can also find the nutritional values at the bottom, too!

Serves 1
30g rolled oats
20g whey protein
100ml skimmed milk
100ml water
10g cacao powder
sweetener of choice, if desired
1 square dark chocolate, chopped
5g/1 tsp cacao nibs, for garnish
5g/1 tsp cacao powder, for garnish
chocolate-covered cocoa beans, for garnish

Overnight Oats
1. Combine oats, whey, cacao and sweetener in a bowl (or shaker bottle) and, stirring all the while, add the milk (or shake it all together and transfer to a bowl).

2. Set in the fridge overnight, then add 50ml water and heat the following morning in the microwave at full power for 1 minute, stir, and set back in for 20-30 second bursts until desired consistency is reached. Move on to step 3 below.

Oats on the Hob
1. Boil water.

2. Thoroughly combine oats, whey, cacao and sweetener in a pan, then, stirring all the while, add the milk, then 100ml boiled water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes or until desired consistency is reached, stirring occasionally to keep from burning.

3. Transfer to a bowl and drop the chopped chocolate on top, let it melt and then stir through.

4. Dust with a little cacao powder (no need to use the whole teaspoon) and sprinkle with cacao nibs. Place your chocolate-covered cocoa beans in the centre and serve for rich, chocolatey goodness.

• I used Pulsin premium whey
• I used Aduna raw cacao powder
• I used 1 square of Green & Black's dark salted caramel
• I used Hotel Chocolat cocoa nibs
• I used Hotel Chocolate supermilk velvet cocoa beans (typically 4g a piece)

Without chocolate covered cocoa beans
347 cals, 10g fat (5.5g sat), 30.5g carbs (5g natural sugar, 3g added), 9.5g fibre, 29.5g protein

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Inktober 2018 - Rathen & Aria

   This week I drew Rathen, the main protagonist of The Zi'veyn, and his daughter, Aria. This is more or less the only time you'll see Rathen smile. 'Prepare to have your heart stolen.'
   I admit, I'm not immensely proud of this one if just because there was nothing really to colour. I like to colour just one or two details, but there was nothing really striking here, which meant that if I applied any colour at all I would probably end up colouring everything, and that hasn't gone well for a long long time. So I didn't want to chance it, though I did darken belts :B I also don't think Aria came out too well, but I never draw expressions like that, and neither have I drawn kids.
   I don't think it's bad enough not to show, though!

Faber Castell PITT superfine
ZIG Art and Graphic Twin Tip Brush Marker Pen, warm grey

Inktober 2018 Archive

Tuesday 9 October 2018

My Number One Fitness Essential

   To be honest, I can exercise in anything. I have multiple drawers stuffed full with leggings, half a drawer of tops, more socks than you can shake a stick at - even designated knickers that I can trust not to move around during burpees. But I don't really need them. I have exercised in my pyjamas. But there is one thing that I can't be without: a sports bra. And if it weren't for sports bras, there's every probability that I would still be unfit and a size 16.

   When I was a teenager, food was my best friend - it's a story you hear a lot from many fitness bloggers. But the thing is, I was also To the point that I was in and out of the doctors once a month because of it. Chest pain, inflammation, breathing problems. Well, to cut a long story short, I got a bra that fit and that cut down my issues by about half. It was amazing. But I was still top-heavy and very self-conscious of it, but there was nothing I could do to hide it, so I hid myself away entirely where I could.

   When I started exercising, I knew bras would be a problem. They were during PE at school. Nightmare. But when I got serious about weight-loss, I went hunting. Since then, though I have dropped from a UK size 16 to a size 8, a 32 inch bra back size to a 28 and 8 cup sizes (I am still too ashamed to share those specifics), sports bras have remained a crucial piece of kit.

   The ligaments in your breasts are not elastic, which means that, during high-impact activites like running, jumping and anything that might cause them to, well, move, they get stretched a little and it can cause damage to the underlying tissues. This means that a sports bra is scientifically crucial, as well as for comfort and, to be honest, confident. With a good sports bra, you don't have to run or jump while holding your chest!
   For this reason, sports bras go through rigorous testing, and every brand is looking to improve upon the science of their product. For example, the Catalyst -  a high impact sports bra from Knix - went through 3 years of testing and the finished product features moulded cups to 'encapsulate' and reduce movement, a ventilation panel between the breasts where most of the heat sits, a more friendly clasp to help escape the bra when you're done (we've all been there) and, of course, more sizes, ranging from an A to a G cup, 32 inch back to 42.
   All this research means they're not cheap, but a good bra is reliable and durable, so even if you only have two - one on, one in the wash - you're fully set. And you'd be surprised how much a good sports bra can up your game.

Friday 5 October 2018

Friday Favourites

This week has been...different. I'm still hesitant to talk about it because we still don't know which way things are going to go, but we remain cautiously hopeful. Otherwise, I've been busy. I've been prepping Etsy for Christmas, sorting through ex-exhibit pieces, painting brand new pieces, working on a few character drawings that I'd decided to show for Inktober, and generally bouncing up and down for Christmas. I'm allowed. It's October. It used to start September. I'm growing up.
I've also been watching a series while working which I think is well worth the attention of anyone looking to live a healthy lifestyle: BBC's Food: Truth or Scare. It looks at food myths, scary headlines and the research behind them - if they're even true or not - and fad diets and crazes, such as the health and dangers of certain diets like raw food and veganism, and the facts behind the bullet-proof coffee and activated charcoal. All of which confirmed what I already knew about it.

I'd always been afraid of watching BBC's Food: Truth or Scare - I was worried it would tell me I wasn't as healthy as I thought I was, or that the fads were actually totally rubbish and unproven and that I was wasting my time. Or, worse, that the occasional indulgence was a bad thing. I happened to catch the first episode of the new series the other day, though, and they were talking about chocolate, and, in fact, were saying everything I already knew - cocoa content, where the good of chocolate lies, and even talking about cocoa nibs, not just high-street bars. I decided to stick around and they ultimately confirmed everything I knew about chocolate with science. I was so happy. They also debunked the whole 'chocolate cake for breakfast' diet, thought to help you lose weight - which anyone with an ounce of sense knows is rubbish - and ultimately said "yes, eat chocolate - dark will always be better, but if you enjoy white or milk, you don't have to cut it back, but the lighter the colour, the less you should eat." White chocolate is essentially just cocoa butter and sugar.
I recorded it and have worked my way through half of the series, learned a few things and confirmed many I already knew. They have nutritionists, scientists and everything on hand, and are actively tearing apart the headlines that people find both convenient and terrifying. Such as mercury in fish - you would have to eat a lot of fish for it to become an issue, the mercury is greater in larger, older fish, but even the fish guiltiest of mercury content like swordfish or shark can still be eaten no more than once a week. I mean, I don't, I typically have haddock and salmon each once a week, but ultimately, it's just another scare-story. It's well worth watching.

Also, Hotel Chocolat's pod cups are designed based on cocoa pods. We first saw them in their limited edition anniversary box, but there were too few other things in it that appealed to me so I didn't buy one. Now they're bringing out their Velvetiser - a hot chocolate maker - these cocoa cups and single-serve hot chocolate packs are appearing on their website. I need them.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Inktober 2018 - Petra

   I'm starting Inktober 2018 off with Petra. In my last post I talked about using characters from my book, The Zi'veyn, rather than a prompt list, and I decided to start with Petra. Mostly because I wanted to do her hair. It's not quite the right colour, but it will do. I'd love to have coloured her a little more beyond that, but lately I've developed a habit of going too far, so I decided to keep it simpler than past pieces rather than rush into experimentation with thinning the inks. It got to a point that I was so happy with the line drawing that I didn't want to risk ruining it, which is a shame since it looks so empty, so I may go back and revisit it now that I at least have a picture of this version. I'll update if I do (and it doesn't look a mess).
   In the mean time, though, meet duelist, Petra Dalton!
Faber Castell PITT superfine
Winsor & Newton drawing ink, silver & brick red

Monday 1 October 2018

October: Core de Force 2.0

Read Also: 5 Weeks Later &
Core de Force 2.0 DVD Review

   If you caught my training round-up, you'll know I'm going back to Core de Force this month, but not the original plan. I've signed up to BeachBody On Demand to access the six new videos that aren't on the DVD (which itself is 6 full workouts of 20-40 minutes, 3 core on the floor routines, 1 extended core workout, an active recovery workout and a pre-bed stretch sequence) and I am excited. There is one new four new cardio and two agility training workouts that involve the use of an agility ladder, all of which range from 20-30 minutes. I've also bought a ladder, but it hasn't arrived yet, so I suspect I'll be using the first run without one, because rather than a 4-day workout week, I'm going for 5.

   I've been eating more lately and feeling energised and healthy and amazing, but, unsurprisingly, I have put on a little bit of fat in an area that's hard to miss or mistake, and is an area my body is known for storing its fat quite quickly. This is very, very sad, of course, but it's natural. I've been under-feeding myself for so long that when I began finally giving it enough, its natural reaction is to store it in case famine hits again - because why else would I have been feeding myself so little? The body is not the reasoning centre, it's wired up quite simply and relies instead on the brain's decisions. Unfortunately, when it comes to weight loss, our reasoning is a bit squiffy.
   So, I have put on about 1kg, I'm not happy with it, but I know it's a good sign. I'm not going to start eating less, 1750 is good for me - if not still a little under what it should be - instead I'm going to stick with it and trust the exercise.

My October workout plan is:
Monday: CdF MMA cardio of choice (out of 4)
Tuesday: CdF agility of choice (out of 2)
Wednesday: CdF MMA cardio of choice (out of 4)
Thursday: core strengthening, personal build or CdF
Friday: CdF MMA cardio of choice (out of 4)
Saturday: CdF MMA cardio of choice (out of 4)
Sunday: bed and books all day.

   I'm excited, I've got an agility ladder coming, and I have new clothes. YAY. It's simple, but I love the tie-back VS top with a copper-gold panel, and a rather old print for Fabletics but one whose colours appealed to me big time. And the May The Force Be With You was too much to pass up at £4.99 on Sports Direct. I went in there to get Seeg jumpers...
   I'm keeping to 1750 calories a day, I'm adding more oats into my porridge, and half a scoop of protein, and I'm generally enjoying eating more and not restricting myself so much. My concentration and performance has improved, and all the more so since I started taking iron + vitamin C supplements. I've heard they can have bad effects on people - like constipation or cramps or similar - but I've been okay. Should that change - or be the case for you - try gentle iron instead. It's made from a different strain of iron that is absorbed much more quickly and easily and so doesn't lead And remember: tea, coffee, eggs and calcium inhibits the absorption of iron, while vitamin C improves it. So if you have red meat or leafy greens, don't eat them with cheese or milk. Try instead some veg high in vitamin C like broccoli, cauliflower or sweet potato or lemon salad dressings.