Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Rosemary Bread for the Bread Maker

My new bread maker arrived yesterday! After a friend told me about a documentary that revealed the use of bird feathers in mass produced bread, I decided to bite the bullet and buy one. Unfortunately, it appears the bread maker was bashed around a bit in the post. It doesn't look anywhere near as in tact as it was in the eBay photos, and was pretty poorly wrapped.

However, it seems to be making bread just fine. It is a Morphy Richards Fast Bake, so I was most looking forward to making a speedy loaf. Said speedy loaf turned out to be a bit gooey. I suspect this is because I am using 'Value' flour from 'Tesco', so I will give it a whirl with bread flour. However, I am aiming for low-cost bread here. So I gave making rosemary bread a go using the standard timing, and it worked beautifully!


Ingredients:

  • 2.5 cups of flour 
  • 5 tablespoons of olive oil 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of yeast
  • 1/4 cup of warm water
  • 3/4 cup of normal water
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of rosemary leaves 

Method:

  1. Add the yeast, warm water, olive oil, and salt to the bottom of the bread maker pan.
  2. Add in half the rosemary
  3. Throw in the rest of the ingredients
  4. Add the rest of the rosemary
That was all I needed to do to produce the bread. It tastes amazing:



And not a bird feather in sight. 





Monday, 13 January 2014

Make Your Own Candles

I love candles, but I find it incredibly hard to locate the scents I want. When I do, they usually cost so much that I can barely justify spending money on them.

After visiting Channel 4's crafting section, I realised it is incredibly easy to make your own candles. While some crafting sites may recommend buying your own double boiler, spending money on beeswax, and using molds, I have found a way to get around all those costs.

What You Need:



  • Some form of jar. I went through loads before and around Xmas and decided to keep them to use as candle holders.
  • A tin can (see picture). You will use this to double boil.
  • Essential oils. I have eucalyptus, Frankincense, and lavender.
  • Soya wax. It is clean burning and melts down easily.
  • This candle wax weight calculator
  • (Optional) wax colouring. Some people use old crayons. Some just keep their candles plain.
  • A pencil and some string for balancing the wick
  • Wicks

What You Need to Do

  1. Begin by cleaning your jars. To get the labels off you have to soak them for a little while, so it is a good idea to do this in advance.
  2. Measure the length and diameter of the container and enter the figures into the candle wax calculator. This will let you know how much the candle should weigh.
  3. Fill the tin can with some wax. You won't be able to fit all of it in at first, but as it melts down you can add more. Add the tin to the pan and pour in some hot water. Bring the water to the boil.
  4. Break down the wax colouring and add it.
  5. Add your essential oils. I have no idea how much actually works. I usually just shake the oil container until I can smell the scent when I sniff the hot wax.
  6. Gradually add all of the wax until it has filled the container. I have found that the predictions made by the calculator are usually pretty spot on.
  7. Tie the wick to a pencil and balance it in the wax. If you don't do this, the wick withers, falls to the side, and you have to get your hands waxy as you try to fish it out.
  8. Return to the candle every so often to watch for air bubbles and prick them using a cocktail stick or something similar. So far, this hasn't happened to me.
Pictures of the Candle Making Process:

The clean burning soya wax





Eucalyptus oil and candle colouring







Balancing the wick



One I made earlier (Frankincense)


Where to buy everything you need

I highly recommend dodging Hobbycraft. Why? Because it is seriously overpriced and you can save a lot of money by going elsewhere. I got everything I need through eBay, but there is also Amazon. If you can, see if anybody sells the supplies you need in a local store or at a local market. Supporting small and local economies is always a positive thing!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Trip to Pennard Castle

Pennard castle
Pennard Castle as you approach from the golf course
I feel as though I live my life in front of a screen sometimes. The majority of the journals and books I need for university are available in 'e' format. I keep in contact with my friends using Facebook, Twitter, and Skype. My enjoyment comes from watching Netflix via my Smart TV, as do my exercise videos. I also work from home, which means I am sat on my sofa with my laptop on my lap.

Pennard castleI had a minor freak out of sorts this weekend. I woke up on Saturday and started itching to get out. At first I decided to go to London, see the National Portrait Gallery, and stay in a hostel. Then I moved onto Bath, so I could see the Roman Baths and get a tattoo. Eventually, I realised I have people and attractions I can make the most of right here in Wales. So I went to see my best friend and her dog on Saturday in Cardiff, and decided to see if Wales had any castles worth visiting today.

Why on earth did I even wonder if Wales had any castles worth visiting? Apparently, as a nation, we have a lot more castles here than most other countries. Pennard Castle was my destination of choice today. It has been around since the 12th century, which means it is pretty old as far as castles go. Unfortunately, it has been abandoned since the 14th century. This castle is situated overlooking a beach, which means there was a tendency for sand dunes to form against it and within it. As such, those who lived in it eventually chose to abandon it for accommodation that was easier to live in.

Pennard castle
View of the beach from the castle
Although it hasn't had loving tenants for 600 years (give or take a couple of decades), it is still beautiful. Many of the walls are long gone, but you can still stand in some of the ground floor 'rooms' and look through the miniscule windows out onto the sea and the surrounding landscape.

This was the home of Henry de Beaumont, the first ever Earl of Warwick. Beaumont built this castle himself after being granted the Lordship of Gower following England's invasion of Wales. The Welsh tried to attack the castle in 1113, but they were unsuccessful. While the castle doesn't have a moat, I can see why it would be easy to defend and hard to attack. We had to walk over hilly ground to reach it, which is now part of the challenging Pennard golf course. To the other side of the castle is a series of steep cliffs and walks down to the beach. This wouldn't have been an easy castle to try and attack.

So what remains of the castle? Unfortunately, I couldn't find any blueprint of sorts to indicate where each of the rooms were. However I did manage to stand in:

Pennard castle

A square room that has been well preserved and quite obviously renovated with a little modern support in recent years. It was full of cute holes to look through and plenty of sand.

Pennard castle
Pennard Castle from the inside

Another smaller square room has also been quite well preserved. This room seems far to small to have been a bedroom or some form of living area, so maybe it was used for storage or looking out for enemies.

Pennard castle


A very closed off circular room, possibly a turret. This room gave me vertigo, as it has completely crumbled to one side and leads out onto a steep cliff...

Pennard castle
View from inside Pennard Castle

See, I wouldn't want to fall down there!

How to Get to Pennard Castle

To get there, head for Pennard Golf Club and find somewhere nearby to park up. Do not use the golf club's car park, as it is for members only and they (according to signs) operate clamping in the area. Instead, find somewhere on the roadside in the nearby village. I need to add, the locals seem amazingly friendly there. Not that I have ever been anywhere particularly hostile, but they were all smiley and happy. I think I'd be the same if I lived near such an amazing castle to go walking by!

I am so pleased I chose to actually get off my arse and do something this weekend. I am taking part in the '100 Happy Days' challenge, and there are severe limits to the amount of times I can be genuinely over the moon about my food, productivity, or revision. Going to Pennard Castle really shook off the cobwebs. I grew up just outside Yorkshire (right at that tip of Derbyshire that isn't quite Yorkshire), so I am used to fields, heights, cold weather, sharp winds...Today really brought all of that back.

I'm hoping to drag my family to more of Wales' castles. There are dozens of them, so we're not going to run out any time soon.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Easy Budget Falafel

In a bid to save money while ditching meat and dairy, I have been exploring simple ways to make my favourite foods. After having a sneak peak at Jack Monroe's blog, I decided to try my hand at making falafel.

Falafel patties!


My recipe is a variation of hers, as it includes carrot:


  • 1 carrot (£0.09)
  • 1 can of chickpeas from Tesco (£0.45)
  • A handful of onions (I chop and freeze mine when I buy them) £0.06*
  • 2 tbsp of flour (£0.06)
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • Vegetable oil for frying
This made about 8 falafel patties (I wanted to eat them burger-style) for about £0.08 per patty

  1. Boil the chickpeas for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Remove the chickpeas from the stove, grate the carrot into them, sprinkle over the cumin and onion.
  3. Mash everything together.
  4. Make eight small patties, place them into flour on each side, and then fry until golden brown.
  5. Eat or save in the fridge
In the end, I ate three of my falafel patties on a babyleaf salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A nice budget lunch, that doesn't cost much.


Friday, 3 January 2014

Work and Lifestyle Resolutions for 2014

2014 new years' resolutions
Happy New Year!
Okay, so it has taken me three days to write my ‘Yay it’s 2014’ post. As far as working from home as a parent goes, 2013 was pretty eventful. I made some good connections, worked on long-term projects, abandoned content mills like a true writing snob and then turned back to them in my hour of need.

On the studying front, I completed the second year of my BSc in Medical Science and Humanities. This was not easy, as I severed two proximal flexor tendons in March and was without the use of my right hand until June. Yowch! This meant I had to resit all my exams in August and submit essays and lab reports late.

vegan
On the home front, I tried a short spate as a vegan. While this was largely successful for a little while, I didn’t find that it agreed with me entirely. Following the hand injury, relying on other people for cooking meant I had to turn to meat again. However, this is all going to change this year (although I won’t be going entirely vegan again).

What will 2014 Bring?

At the end of 2013, I received an offer from the University of Surrey to study their Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) course there. I have accepted their offer, but I also received a sneaky little invite to application to an entirely different job. I can’t discuss this here (don’t worry, it is nothing James Bond-like, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it at all), but I am giving the application a go.
So this means it is likely that I will move down south. As much as I have loved calling Wales my home for the past few years, I am someone who gets bored easily. I need something fresh and new to do all the time, and I believe being close to London will offer me plenty of variety. So what are my 2014 resolutions? I thought I would go with 10, and I hope to document them here.
days out with kids
More historic days out


1.       Graduate from my degree in Medical Sciences and Humanities
2.       Ditch meat and dairy. I won’t be ditching fish or eggs, but meat and dairy are going to go.
3.       Use YouTube to try different fitness classes each day. They won’t be different by nature, but they will be different in terms of the class itself (does this make sense?)
4.       Cut down food expenditure Jack Monroe-style. I am absolutely amazed by the way she manages to produce amazing food for as little as £0.12 a portion. With a move coming up, I want to emulate this.
5.       Sell or re-purpose something every weekend. Again, this is going to be necessary for the move.
6.       Make a work schedule each week and stick to it
7.       Read as many books as possible. I have started a new blog, called ReadAThlon. Go check it out.
8.       Update all of my blogs on a(t least a) weekly basis. This means Tudor Queens, Controversial Consorts, ReadAThlon, this blog, and Gorgeous Georgians (coming soon!)
9.       Start my own writing site for clients, launch, and market it
10.   Join the Historic Royal Palaces with a family ticket, find museums and galleries to visit, and then make the most of them after moving down south

Thanks to my hand injury and adopting a different perspective to my working lifestyle, 2013 felt a little disorganised for me. It wasn’t a bad year by any means, but I am hoping to take everything I have learned from the past 12-months and use it as a platform for making the next 12 even better.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Functioning on Little Sleep: Energizing as a Freelancer


Twice over the weekend and twice this week I have found myself unable to sleep. With two children, a degree, clients, and blogs to manage, this can soon become problematic. Sunday and Monday night were both filled with eight hours of deep sleep. On Sunday night I achieved this with anti-histamines, maybe I was still feeling their effect come Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I averaged four hours. Each night. This has left me unable to meet my daily earning goals, which especially challenging as I am spending the next two weekends in London.

At 5am this morning I began investigating ways to keep myself awake. As usual, the tripe produced at WikiHow was ranking highly; spouting crap about caffeine at several intervals . Some tough love forum responses suggested just pushing through positively. That worked for all of about two hours, until my son quite literally threw his cereal all over my carpet. Other suggestions included taking a caffeine pill, then napping for 30 minutes, and seeing out the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, none of this appealed to me. With recent news stories suggesting that getting a good night’s sleep helps your brain repair, I have been more fixated on sleeping than ever. Further to this, a BBC 2 documentary broadcast within the last month or so has suggested that getting six hours sleep or less, as opposed to seven or more, leads to the same biological markers associated with heart attacks accumulating in your blood. I certainly feel stressed when I do not sleep enough, so I know I need to get more of it.

Functioning as a Freelancer After a Bad Night’s Sleep

Each to their own and all, but I do have a few ways to function as a freelancer after a bad night’s sleep:

1.       Eat, eat, and then eat some more

While binge eating may cause you to feel more lethargic than usual, structured and well-planned eating can be to your benefit here. My favourite—and most convenient—snack of choice is wholegrain breakfast biscuits. They avoid the hyperglycemia spikes and subsequent crashes that leave you feeling more lethargic and they do not require a lot of preparation. Other favourites include sour dough, flat breads, and hummus. Having these snacks to hand for a quick boost when hunger kicks in is essential.

2.       Caffeine
I won’t decry caffeine altogether, although I do reject drinking it past 2pm, particularly if you are a ritual poor sleeper. Caffeine can continue with its stimulant effects up to 10-12 hours after consumption. Like saving for Xmas, every relaxing step you take as an insomniac helps. I choose to drink three cups in the morning—not one after another, but at regular intervals.

3.       Berocca
If you have ever been a student/party animal, you may remember Berocca. Rich in Ginseng and other natural stimulants, it can give you the good morning kick up the arse you need to get going. I like to neck one before my first coffee of the day.

4.       Power Naps

The prime minister does them, so I thought I would give this a go today. Interestingly, I found out that us humans are the only mammals that do not engage in bi-phasic sleep. Previous to this, I read that humans used to wake around 3-4am, have a couple of hours awake, and then go back to sleep for a couple more hours. During this time, we would visit neighbours, pray, or have sex. Maybe I just haven’t evolved yet for modern life, maybe many of us haven’t. Anyway, I tried this powernap business on the sofa. It was fantastic.

5.       Get Outside

I took a long sharp walk this morning, which was fantastic in the early November cold. How great I would feel about this during the summer months is another matter altogether.

I am big on my sleep hygiene right now, which means I have ditched caffeine in the afternoon alongside other stimulants. Mimicking the crazy business lady from Breaking Bad, I have chosen chamomile tea with a little Manuka honey as my warm drink of choice in the afternoon. I am British; I simply cannot have some form of tea.


My bedroom has been confined to sleeping only. I have cut out screens and harsh lights in the last two hours before bed time, sticking to my kindle only. A part of me knows that these problems are at least partially down to over thinking the sleep process. As much as I am aware of that, it isn’t making things better. And so, I am going to go ahead and seek out a damn good therapist. It’ll probably pay for itself in terms of productivity.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Testing Out Time Blocking

time blocking
Well we certainly have had a wet start to the week here. I am in no way exaggerating when I write that I looked as though I had gone head-to-head with a turned on hosepipe this morning after doing the school run. As disappointing as this was, there was something quite pleasant about coming inside and throwing myself into some comfy pyjamas, before settling myself down to work for the day.

Time Blocking

This week I have chosen to become a time blocking extraordinaire. For those who are not aware, time blocking involves dedicating blocks of time to those tasks that are most important to your work/life ventures. You must prioritise those tasks that can make the biggest positive contribution to the rest of your life, before moving onto the next.

As far as I can gather, many people who engage in time blocking choose to dedicate the first four hours of their working day to those tasks that—once done—will make sure that everything else is okay. For me, this is writing the articles that my existing clients need. Doing this ensures I am up-to-date on my deadlines, I have money in the bank, and I can move onto the less important tasks.

Next, I need to focus on tidying the house. Again, doing this has a net positive effect on the rest of my life. It ensures I feel positive in my working environment, and that my family can come home to a nice clean home.

Then there are those things that help out, but are not going to see my life fall around me in ruins if I do not get them done. This includes blogging, affiliate marketing, pitching to new clients, and finding extra sources of income. They do need doing at some point and should not be delayed for too long, but I am not going to suffer majorly if I do not finish them.

Prioritising With Lists


I have found, so far, that the key to making this time blocking thing work is to prioritise with lists. Once I have got that four hours’ worth of article writing out of the way, I can then move onto the tidying, and finally the other things that matter a little.

When writing lists, I have also found that it is better to write them for each day of the week. For example, I need to time block for blogging and making packed lunches Monday to Friday, but not on Saturday or Sunday.


Time Blocking Time for Myself


Ultimately, I also need to time block some time for myself. This means watching an episode of my favourite TV show, listening to some 1920s jazz, and reading books on my Kindle. Obviously there are times when I need to interrupt this, such as when a client needs a request pronto. However, this is not always going to happen, which means it is perfectly reasonable to expect some evening time alone, with my thoughts and interests.

To ensure I get time to myself, I have started to eliminate screens from my life. I had an awful weekend in terms of sleep, and I have begun to realise that being permanently attached to my laptop and watching TV late at night isn’t helping. Instead, I am now settling down with a Kindle paperwhite—not having a backlit screen is very important—and reading while enjoying a little camomile tea. Doing this helped me beyond measure last night, saving my sleep sanity.


I do intend to keep up with my new routine, and hopefully it will help me strike my work-life balance better.