Deadlines, Diets, and Determination

I’ve been quiet lately because I spent August desperately working on Camp NaNoWriMo – despite getting an average of only 5½ hours sleep a night!  In fact, I only had two nights in the whole month where I got as much as 8 hours sleep – and one of those is only if you count an afternoon nap as part of the total!

Anyway, despite being zombified for most of the month, I managed to hit the 50,000 word deadline with two and a bit novellas.  It took a lot of self discipline to write when I was that tired!  I managed it though, even though I had a six day period around week 3 where I couldn’t write at all & had to play catch up during the last week.

It always makes me feel virtuous when I ‘win’ a NaNoWriMo.  So, I’m still coasting on the sense of accomplishment, but I need to get back to work soon.  It’s a shame that I find editing much harder than writing when I’m tired.  It’s not a good state for jobs that require attention to detail.

I’m working on the post-editor edits for my next title.  It’s a fantasy romance novella and should hopefully be out some time later this month.

On a personal note, I’m thinking about starting to track calories & exercise on MyPlate (part of again.  I can’t just cut down on food, because if I don’t eat enough calories, I don’t lose weight.  My body is very clear about that!  For example, if I set my calorie goals to lose 2lb a week, then I won’t lose any.  I have to aim for 1½lb if I want to lose weight.  MyPlate (or the Daily Plate as it was back then) was the only thing that helped me lose weight before my wedding.  Exercise and cutting down on food weren’t helping.  It’s a narrow path that I have to walk if I want to shift the pounds.

I’ve got a family wedding coming up next year, and I’d like to shift a bit of the weight that I’m still carrying after I had my son.  I need to shift about a stone and a half (21lb) and I think it will only happen if I calorie track.  It’s an annoying and time consuming faff.  Calorie tracking is only easy if you eat pre-packaged foods, which I don’t in general.  Having to calculate every single ingredient that goes into cooking a meal is a real pain.  It does work though.

For years I refused to diet at all, and I still don’t believe in diets that involve denying yourself things.  If I try to cut something out, then I just wind up eating twice the calories in other stuff, trying to satisfy the cravings for the thing I’m denying myself.  I’ll be eating what I usually eat, just in moderation.  Plus, knowing I have to track something if I eat or drink it means that I’m less likely to eat when I’m not actually hungry.  As eating when I’m not actually hungry is something I do more often than I should, that’s helpful.

If I run out of calories for the day and I’m still hungry, then I’ll eat something.  I’m not going to be overly strict with myself.  It’s just a good set of guidelines to work with.  Plus, it will help me work out which of my favourite meals are most calorific and should perhaps appear less frequently than they currently do!

According to Wii Fit I’m at the upper end of the ideal weight category, but it doesn’t take my frame into account, and I know I am carrying more weight for my BMI than is healthy for me.

I intend to reward myself for losing weight by having a go at making a gorgeous dress I’ve seen in one of the Burda magazines I’ve been buying.  I haven’t yet made anything out of them due to a lack of free time.  My dressmaking experience is limited to my wedding dress (a simple, empire line pattern) and a couple of outfits for my son.  This dress will involve learning how to do gathers, so it will be a steep learning curve!  Hopefully a fun one though.

I currently really want a packet of crisps (chips), but I’m not actually hungry yet.  The self-discipline starts here… wish me luck!

Edited to add:  A warning to anyone considering using MyPlate to track calories.  It seems to set a suggested calorie intake amount that is way too low.  I set it to lose 1½lb a week and it told me I should be aiming to eat 1,000 calories a day.  That struck me as far fewer calories than I used to be able to have – I have a vague memory that it used to be 1,400 to 1,600 under its former incarnation as the Daily Plate.

I checked and yes, 1,000 calories a day is far too low for healthy weight loss.  Not sure why it’s doing that but it’s something to be wary of.  I plan to aim for more like 1,400.  Livestrong’s own site warns against 1,000 calorie a day diets, so I’ve no idea why it’s telling me to eat that little!

Chocolate Cheesecake

The first time I attempted a home-made cheesecake, I used Butterscotch flavour Angel Delight.  Back when I was at uni, I used to make a cheesecake-esque dessert.  I’d buy a packet of cheesecake mix, ditch the cheesecake bit (they’re always too sweet for my tastes) and just use the biscuit-crumb mix.

It would probably have been cheaper to weigh out biscuits and butter and make my own from scratch, but I didn’t have any kitchen scales at uni.  Anyway, I’d make up the Butterscotch Angel Delight with a small carton of yoghurt and a tiny drizzle of milk.  The filling wouldn’t set solid like a proper cheesecake – but I always spread it thinly anyway.  Cheesecake has always been mostly about the biscuit-crumb base for me!

Filled with nostalgic yearnings for that old dessert, I thought I’d try something similar some *cough* years later and, since Angel Delight don’t use artificial sweetener in their regular mix, I knew I would still be able to eat it.  (So many things I used to like are now off-limits to me due to an allergy to artificial sweeteners, and companies who like to save money by using them.)

Unfortunately, in the intervening years, Angel Delight have also taken out the old artificial flavourings…  🙁

Thus, when I experimented and whizzed up Philadelphia (cream cheese) with a packet of Butterscotch Angel Delight & a drizzle of milk, the natural flavourings in the Angel Delight lacked strength, and the over-riding flavour was of cheese.  It was too rich, too cheesy, and nothing like my memories.

So – this time around, I decided to go for chocolate cheesecake, add cream, and ditch the Angel Delight in favour of a 100gram bar of Green & Black’s 85% cocoa, dark chocolate.

I also consulted a few recipes – then ignored them and made up my own!

For the cheesecake base, I had a 9 inch tin so used the following, which was 1 1/2 times the suggested amount for a 7 inch tin (plus salt, which wasn’t in the original recipe, but I find that salt works well with chocolate, so I wanted to add some to the base):

  • 9oz digestives – crushed
  • 4 1/2oz butter – melted
  • 1 1/2 oz sugar
  • Pinch of salt

I melted the butter in a pan and then stirred in the other ingredients before pressing the mixture firmly into a foil-lined tin & chilling in the fridge for an hour or two.  The recipe book talked about baking it, but I’ve never baked a biscuit-crumb base, so I didn’t bother.

For the chocolate cheesecake filling, I used:

  • One 300gram tub of Philadelphia Light (low fat cream cheese)
  • One 300ml of whipping cream
  • One 100gram bar of Green & Blacks 85% cocoa dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 2-3 heaped tbsp icing sugar (I just tipped a bit into the bowl & whisked it in until I was happy with the flavour.)

I used my electric beaters & started by whipping the cream up until it made firm peaks and didn’t shift if I turned the bowl gently sideways.  Then I beat in the cream cheese and vanilla essence.

I melted the chocolate (using the microwave, checking regularly and stirring until melted, I let the last few chunks melt on their own in the heat from the perspex bowl.)  Then I folded in the chocolate and beat it into the mixture, adding icing sugar to taste.

I wound up with enough mixture to make two cheesecakes – but as I only had one base, I froze the rest in portions.  It’s a little solid for ice-cream, but if you have molds for those small, thin ice-lollies that children often have, it would probably work well on those.  Even in its slightly solid state, the frozen leftovers have gone down well with the family!

Anyway, I spread the mixture into the base and let it chill in the fridge.  Here is a slightly out of focus picture of one of the last slices (it didn’t last very long!)


It was surprisingly light.  (Though probably not in terms of calories!)

Overall, it was a great success, and will definitely be making a come-back in our kitchen … once we’ve lost a few pounds!


I generally approach writing a story with: some characters, a basic concept, a start, and a finish in mind. The middle bit takes care of itself as I write. I’ll brainstorm ahead and maybe make a few notes on where I want the action to go over the next few thousand words, then I’ll write & when I start to run out of notes I’ll brainstorm some more. It works well for me.

I also tried improvising a story completely once for Scriptfrenzy. I just started describing the first scene that came into my head and the characters appeared on the page as they appeared in my mind. I did make a couple of notes in the middle of writing it, but that was because I wasn’t near my computer at the time. All I had on me was an old envelope, which was covered in scribbled notes on both sides by the time I got home. That also worked surprisingly well. (Though it probably helps that I’ve got a background in narrative improvisation, so I’m used to making up stories on the spot and holding the plot together.)

What I’ve never yet done – and intend to try for the August session of Camp NaNoWriMo – is to pre-plan out a story scene by scene and then sit down to write it. I’m finding it really tricky, because my instincts are screaming at me to do it the way I usually do. Now that I have plot ideas for the first ten thousand words or so, they want me to start writing it – and then plot the next bit, then write, etc.

Still, it’s an interesting challenge. I’m determined to get through any inner resistance and plot the whole thing before the start of August. I’m wondering if it will increase the amount I’m able to write each day, or have any other beneficial results. Time-wise it wouldn’t help speed up my writing in general, as this seems to take longer than the way I’m used to doing it. However, it might help for situations like NaNoWriMo, where I have to write a set amount of words in a set amount of time.

I think it’s good to shake up your writing habits occasionally – to try a different style/genre, or a different way of working. I’m hoping that I’ll learn something from the experience (other than that I’m mad to be contemplating a NaNoWriMo month when I’ve still got three stories to get through edits!)

My First Story Has Now Been Published

After pretty much a lifetime of thinking of myself as a writer – I have finally published something!  ‘Dimension Jumpers: Wanted’ went live on Smashwords,,, and the other European Amazons earlier this week.  It’s been approved by Smashwords for onward distribution, and is now live on Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble. Still awaiting distribution to Kobo, and various other e-book retailers.

A print version is available via CreateSpace,, and other european Amazons.

Book Cover for Dimension Jumpers - Wanted by Zelah Meyer

At roughly 9,500 words, it’s a long short story/short novella, or a ‘novelette’ if you use that term. 🙂

Here’s the description: “All Amy wants is to blend in, hide her abilities, and stay alive. She’s just met the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, he’s one of the top police agents in the capital, and she’s the top suspect for the recent killing of the king. Even more unfortunately, she doesn’t know whether she’s guilty or not.”

I’m so pleased to finally see it out there after much back and forth with various beta/proof readers and my editor.

Now, on to the next title!

Ice Cream Dessert

A month or so ago I was trying to find a dessert that would satisfy my nostalgic cravings for a Brown Derby (can’t link to it directly, but it’s in the clickable list of desserts on that page) without the stodge of the doughnut part of it.  I love it but it’s pretty much a meal in itself for me!

Anyway, I looked at the ingredients I had to hand and I came up with this:

ice cream 1

It’s Carte D’Or Chocolate Inspiration ice cream, with broken ginger snaps and chopped & roasted hazelnuts.  The results is a dessert that is surprisingly light yet satisfying.

Before you think I’ve been too carried away there – that’s a fairly small bowl!  The ginger snaps are only around 2 1/2 inches diameter and I used four or five of them.  I also don’t use much more than a single scoop of ice cream.  It’s just that the ice cream is scooped in thinner curls rather than one solid ball.  OK, so it’s still not exactly low calorie – but it’s better for me than the doughnut version!  I also use less ice cream than I do with a doughnut.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this particular combination of products with you in case it appealed to anyone else!  If it does – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

ice cream 2

Herman Bread

My adventures with Herman continue…

Having made two cakes and feeling guilty at the thought of potentially cooking a third, I decided to look around for other Herman recipes.  I found this one on the All Recipes website.

Herman Bread 1

I paid attention to the comments & used 2 tsp of salt instead of the 1 tbsp suggested.  I also needed to add more flour as they suggest.

Our flat was cold, so it took forever for the dough to rise!  I thought the finished loaf was going to be much denser than it actually was.  It rose more in the oven than bread usually does for me.  I use a silicone bread pan and it even bowed out slightly at the sides.

It took less time to cook than suggested, so best keep an eye on it if you give it a go!

The finished results were very tasty.  Slightly sweet with a definite sour dough flavour.  In fact, it was so tasty that I started to want another loaf of it!  Thankfully, I’d experimented with freezing the two left-over Herman portions I had from the last time.

Herman came back to life without any problems.  I took him out of the freezer yesterday and followed the advice I’d seen & fed him today as if it were day 4 of the process.  I might treat him now more like an ongoing sour dough mix & just feed him every now and again – and scoop out a cup or so the following day to use for a loaf or something else.

Herman Bread 2

It struck me that the Herman bread recipe looked very much like a regular bread recipe with added Herman, flour and salt.  With that in mind, my urge to experiment is prodding me to try making Herman cinnamon rolls…  Not just yet though – I should probably leave it a bit longer after all that cake!



Herman the (Second) German Friendship Cake

I made my second Herman last night.

I wanted to try a different recipe and my husband voted for a ginger Herman over a chocolate one.  There’s a recipe for a ginger Herman on the Herman website but it didn’t sound quite like the type of cake I was looking for.

So, being me, I decided to play with the ingredients!  I took the ginger flavouring mix from the All Recipes Big Soft Ginger Cookies recipe and decided to add rhubarb as the fruit.

The resulting cake batter was more liquid than the last one I made, possibly because of the molasses/treacle, possibly because I ran out of oil and had to guesstimate how much soft margarine to use to top up the oil I had.  I added about a third of a cup more flour to help but the batter still took quite a while to cook, hence this Herman being a bit darker in colour than the last.  I definitely needed the foil again!

rhubarb & ginger herman

It turned out well.  The ginger flavouring is very subtle, so if you like a stronger ginger flavour, then you might want to up the spices, or add some decent crystalized ginger to the mix.  I wanted to add crystalized ginger this time, but could only find a brand that I already know to be extremely wussy when it comes to flavour.

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1 portion of Herman
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 cups of plain flour (plus a little extra that may not be needed if you use oil rather than estimated quantites of margerine!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 60ml (approx two tablespoons) of treacle/molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup cooking oil
  • 4 medium sticks of rhubarb, washed & cut into small chunks

Plus of course, the yummy (yet calorie laden) topping of 1/4 cup of brown sugar & 1/4 cup melted butter.

As before, I lined my tin with greaseproof paper & baked Herman on a low shelf in a 170-180 degrees celsius oven.  After the initial 45 minutes I covered him with foil and kept baking until a skewer inserted into the middle came out clean.

I think he turned out very well.  I like both the Hermans I’ve made so far.  My preference is probably for the apple version, but my husband prefers this one.  🙂

Spiced Quinoa With Onion, Garlic & Ginger

We’re all suffering from a lingering cough at the moment, so I fancied cooking something that at least felt healthy.

It’s really hot here too, so I decided to go for something fairly light as well & quinoa seemed the perfect candidate.  Quinoa, garlic, and onion.

Usually I would cook the quinoa first on its own and then add it to a frying pan with the onion & garlic in it.  This time I decided to do things the other way around and cook the quinoa with the already softened onion & garlic.

I started out by rinsing the quinoa to get rid of the bitter taste & left it in the sieve to drain.  I then chopped up the onion and put that in the saute pan (with some olive oil) on the same medium-high heat that I usually use for quinoa.

While the onion was softening I chopped up the cloves from half a bulb of garlic (what?  I really like garlic – and I’m ill – and garlic is good for you!)  I also got two heaped tablespoons of easy-cook ginger (finely sliced ginger in vinegar – but you could use fresh if you liked) and gave that a bit of a chop too to make the pieces smaller.

Once the onions started to go transparent, I added the garlic & ginger and cooked them until the vinegar had evaporated from the ginger.  At that point I added the spices and seasoning and stirred them in.  If I made this again then I might leave out the spices, or play with a different blend.

I added the rinsed quinoa and let it toast with the spices for ten minutes.  Normally I let it toast until it starts to pop, but with the moisture from the other ingredients it wasn’t popping, so I stopped when the onion started to go brown.

Spiced Quinoa 1

At this point I added the water and put the lid on the pan, leaving it to cook for ten minutes.  N.B. – It’s important to cover the quinoa, because otherwise you’ll lose too much water to evaporation before the quinoa has the chance to absorb it.

Spiced Quinoa 2

After ten minutes I took the lid off the pan and added some chopped cashew nuts, letting them toast lightly as I stirred the quinoa and let the excess moisture evaporate.  If you like your quinoa porridgey, then add more water & leave the lid on for more of the cooking time.  I prefer mine with a bit more substance!

Spiced Quinoa 3

Quinoa cooked, I then added a drizzle of chilli infused olive oil & some petit pois.

The (in)exact measurements I used were:

  • Quinoa up to the 10fl oz line on a measuring jug
  • 19fl oz of water (more if you like your quinoa mushy)
  • One medium onion
  • Half a bulb of garlic, finely chopped
  • Two heaped tablespoons of chopped ginger
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Spices:  I used 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric, a tiny dash of cloves and a sprinkling of nutmeg.  You could leave out the spices if you prefer.  I’d also suggest doing what I did – sniff all your spices and decide what you fancy & what will work well together!  I mix my spices & seasonings up in a small pot before adding them.  This helps prevent steam from the pan entering the spice container & causing it to clump together.

So there you go. 🙂

Spiced Quinoa 4

Herman the German Friendship Cake

We visited some friends the other weekend and came home with a Herman.

Having tasted the one they cooked, I knew he’d be worth it.  When I first got him, it seemed very odd to be talking about a sour dough starter/cake as if it were sentient.  However, if you try it, you’ll probably find that by the time you bake the cake, you’re calling him Herman too!

I went with the basic recipe but I left out the raisins and added an extra half a cooking apple, chopped up to raisin size.  He took a long time to cook.  Nearly two hours due to the extra moisture from the extra apple & the fact I had him on a low shelf.  Still, the end result was very yummy!


I gave away two of the three spare starters & have kept the third so that I can try one of the other recipes and pass a starter on to my mother-in-law.  My husband has voted for the ginger cake!