How To Make Bliss Balls

Friday, March 27, 2015

raw cacao bliss balls

Bliss balls can be the easiest on-the-go snack to make...and eat(!). I like to consider myself quite a bliss ball expert since I've tried so many different recipes out so I have a few tips to share with you, along with my go-to recipe. I'm sharing with you the recipe for cacao bliss balls because these are my favourite and as I mentioned last month anything chocolate is heaven to me.

leave your bliss balls uncovered

As far as bliss balls go you can mix and match your preferred ingredients once you have the know-how, and you can roll your bliss balls in whatever you please. Truth be told you can usually find bits of shredded coconut all over my house and on my carpet. Rolling bliss balls in shredded coconut is my all time favourite, and somehow I usually manage to spread it all over my house. And the list does not stop with shredded coconut: you can use raw cacao powder, chia seeds, ground gojis, crushed nuts, just to name a few... or even leave them uncovered! So experiment with your coatings and use whichever ingredients you like.

or cover in cacao, powdered coconut, gojis or pumpkin seeds

Bliss balls are super easy to make, but there can be little issues here and there given the nature of the ingredients, the different blenders you may use or even the recipe. Here are some magic tricks if you get a little bit sticky. Or dry. Or sloppy.

+ You know when you're rolling your bliss balls and they get stuck to the palms of your hands? Simply wet your hands and they will stick no longer.
+ When your mixture is too dry simply add a little more coconut oil.
+ When your mixture is too 'sloppy' or wet, it can help to put it in the fridge for 10 minutes for everything to harden up a little.
+ Soaking your dates in hot water for 10 mins softens them and makes them easier to blend.
+ Sometimes to get the ball shape it is easier to mould the mixture, shaping it with your hands, instead of rolling the mixture. Some mixtures can fall apart when trying to roll into balls.
+ Bliss balls can be stored either in the fridge or freezer. The freezer creates a harder, chewier ball, whereas the fridge makes them softer and more melt-in-your-mouth.

roughly chop coconut and gojis, coat in chia seeds and sesame seeds, or dip in raw chocolate
Serves 16.

1 cup walnuts
1 cup soaked, pitted dates (soak for 10mins)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon rice malt syrup *optional (for those of you new to cacao you may prefer to add the rice malt syrup to sweeten the mixture a little more, however I find that the dates make it sweet enough).

1. Process walnuts, shredded coconut, and raw cacao powder and place in a large bowl.
2. Process dates and coconut oil together, and the rice malt syrup if you are using it.
3. Combine date mixture in with the dry ingredients in the large bowl and mix to combine completely.
4. Using a heaped tablespoon of mixture, roll into balls and then roll in shredded coconut. Place on lined tray.
5. Set in freezer for 1 hour.
6. Store in fridge or freezer depending on your preference.

Enjoy x

What is your favourite bliss ball recipe? How do you coat your fave bliss balls?
You can see past A Plate of Beautiful posts here

ByBenSmith: A Focus On Mindful Design

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

About a month ago a friend of mine introduced me to the Australian designer Ben Smith. We 'met' over an article he wrote On The Cost Of Consumption. I quickly connected with Ben on social media and eagerly waited for the launch of byBenSmith. What caught my attention was his philosophy and that Ben only produces a capsule of five to ten styles, five times a year. When the collection launched I was surprised by just how intentional the pieces were and the clarity and calm of the shopping experience.

Ben's focus on a quality and minimalist approach is evident in all aspects of his brand though none as strongly visible then in the quality of fabric and materials used in his clothes. I click shop on his website and instantly five pieces in "moody indigo blues, warm ashy charcoal and ecru" appear. A coat, jacket, dress, shirt and a pair of pants. No scrolling through hundreds of pieces and clicking next page, next page. There it was. Five beautiful pieces of clothing. I clicked on the first, the A-Line Coat. A mixture of linen and cotton, in a Japanese Indigo Twill and available as a limited edition of eight pieces. And the price point? Exactly the same, and in many cases lower than what you would expect to pay for clothes by larger designers that are made in greater quantities. I was impressed. Price point is important for me. You can hope to be an ethical and mindful consumer but at the end of the day what your ethics and mindfulness will cost you is no simple matter.

The product images are based on a mannequin, the focus being on 'the cut and cloth' not a beautifully styled model, who let's be honest a raincoat would look amazing on. As I scroll down, there's even more. Slowly the story of the coat unfolds. The fabric, the hardware (this collection features real horn buttons, each with it's own unique appearance), the process. I keep reading...designed in Melbourne...pattern making...craftsmanship....

Ben talks about the factory where the clothes are made. I find myself reading quickly, half holding my breath. A small factory in Hong a sample seamstress responsible for the entire garment from start to finish... The name of the seamstress. This coat was made by Sham Mei Chon. I love to tell the story behind clothes. It's not unusual for me to purchase something and then email the designer to understand how the piece now hanging on my body came to be. Ben tells this story in the beginning but it doesn't end there. Are you concerned about factories in Asia? Ben explains the difference between factories in Hong Kong and China. The history of the factory he uses and government regulations.

all images courtesy of byBenSmith

So, who is the byBenSmith woman? Ben describes her as being "someone who is experienced and accomplished; someone who has a sense of self awareness and self possession, who is comfortable in her own skin. She is some one who has an understanding of and appreciation for thoughtful design and quality but is not necessarily interested in 'fashion'." I don't think I'm that woman entirely, but she's the woman I'm working towards becoming. All that's left to do now is consider the gaps in wardrobe, make my selection and wait for a limited, ethically produced, high quality piece of clothing to arrive. Its story is the beginning of mine.

You can find out more about byBenSmith on the website, shop, instagram and facebook
*this is not a sponsored post

What do you think affects your ability to invest in quality, well-made pieces of clothing? 
I'll pop my answer in the comments below too.

How I Edit My Instagram Photos

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I face a number of challenges when taking photos for Instagram. I've spoken about light and surfaces and backgrounds in my post on how to take good Instagram photos but my other limitation is that I spend hours on end, on my own (ie no one readily available to take photos for/of me). I'm either propping my iPhone against something to take a picture or using my DSLR on a tripod. I don't like having to use my tripod to take photos for Instagram so I usually end up not being in many IG photos (as I'm taking the photo). I try to get the shot I want when taking it because I don't like having to do too much editing. I do all my editing on my phone, either on VSCO or Instagram. Here's how I edit my Instagram photos. 

Original photo before any editing

CROP. The first thing I usually do is crop my photo (remember that narrow sill I take the photo on? That makes cropping essential). The photo below was taken just beside my window when I had a little white side table close by. As you can see below, it's not the perfect square that Instagram strives for, but for the moment I leave it as it is. 

Photo - cropped 

EDITING. I used to rely quite heavily on the VSCO app to edit my photos but since Instagram improved their editing features I've been using that. Especially because I don't typically use filters. It would have to be a very poor quality photo for me to add a filter. If I add a filter it's because I think it will make the photo look infinitely better. Otherwise I rely on: exposure, highlights and shadows. At the end of the day what I'm trying to improve or perfect in my photos is the light and brightness. And just because you have 10 different features at your disposal doesn't necessary mean you need to use all of them. I like bright, light, white photos and that's what I try to achieve on my camera and then later in the editing process. 

photo edited on VSCO - playing with exposure, highlights and shadows. No filter. 

AESTHETIC: This isn't actually a physical 'thing' I do but after I've fiddled with the exposure, highlights and shadows I take a moment to ask myself if this image and what I've done to it fits the overall aesthetic of my gallery. It's also a point at which I ask myself how the photo fits with my brand. 

Does the photo fit my brand and my gallery? 

SQUARING: It took me a while to stop seeing things/life in Instagram squares! Initially I used Squaready to get my photos into a neat square, and then iPhone came up with 'square' as an option to take your photo in (handy) but the truth is I go between the two. Sometimes it is possible to for me the take the photo in a square, other times it needs to be cropped into a square, and sometimes I just need to put it through Squaready. 

Final edited image that I shared on Instagram 

That's pretty much all I do. For everyone who ask about the apps I use and what levels I play with - I'm not very technical. And I think that's why I keep going back to the aesthetic I'm after and what feels right for my brand and the connection between the blog and my Instagram gallery. If you have any other questions, pop them below and I'll answer them. And, if you love Instagram as much as I do, I do hope you'll support me and the outrageously talented Kayd by entering or sharing our giveaway. It really would mean the world to me. 

It's been a crazy month talking about how to grow your instagram here on the blog. I hope you've found the posts useful, though having said that and having written all those posts, I think it's this post that really keeps Instagram and social media in perspective for me.

How do you edit your Instagram photos? 
Hope you enter the giveaway, it's a real goodie! 

An Instagram Giveaway

Friday, March 20, 2015

I've had the best time talking about Instagram and how to grow your Instagram community on the blog this month. Most of all, I'm thrilled to be teaming up with Brand Strategist and Designer Kayd Roy to offer one person a one-on-one consultation with Kayd, an Instagram Class of sorts. I did this class with Kayd and not only did my Instagram flourish but I was able to use the knowledge from this class across my social media platforms. It's the perfect 'class' for small businesses and bloggers, or anyone just looking to develop and grow their Instagram community. 

To enter the giveaway you need to do the following: 

a) follow Me on Instagram
b) post a photo on your Instagram, in the caption tell us what you hope to learn (as general or specific as you want, Instagram related or not, there's no trick here) OR a big goal you have for 2015
c) tag a friend who you think could use some insight on how to better use Instagram generally or on how to use it to better market their business
d) don't forget to add #LifeUnStyledGiveaway

The giveaway is open worldwide, only new photos please, but you can enter as many times as you like. The winner will be announced on 31 March 2015.

Past posts in the Grow Your Instagram Community have included: knowing your community - a look at Instagram metrics, how to take good Instagram photos and what Instagram photos really tell us.

Good luck everyone, and thank you for the continued support! 

My Un-Styled Life and Instagram

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I've spent a few posts this month talking about growing your Instagram community, but this post is a post that I've most wanted to write. The criticism that many bloggers and Instagram lovers fall into - that our pictures are all overly styled - has gained so much momentum, with many people turning away from Instagram. I agree that there are many bloggers who appear to style all of their photos, perhaps style much of their on-line persona to fit the personal brand they are trying to create for themselves. Instagram is such a visual space - it's where I go for inspiration, to add a little more sparkle to my day. I want to see pictures that look good. A blurry photo is not going to cut it for me. Neither is a photo of you showing baby vomit on your top. It's just not what I find inspiring. And I one hundred percent acknowledge that not everyone is going to be inspired by what I post. 

Posted on Instagram: Nothing in particular happened, but it all seemed to happen at once. This afternoon, right now. I want to cry and run and give up. But I'm taking a deep breath and I'm going to run a bath with lots of Lush goodness

What irks me the most is when my photos get judged against someone else's 'normal'. For instance, my home is spotless for the most part. There are only three of us in it, the youngest being Miss 10 (who is old enough to keep her stuff organised, and who is in school for most of the day). I work from home, I can't work in chaos, hence the photos of a tidy house that you see is because it is tidy. I don't expect everyone's home to look like mine - we all have different realities. So before we decide to cast judgement I think we should consider the fact that there are so many different realities and normals. 

Posted on Instagram: Kitchen skincare essentials thanks to The Aromatherapy Company. I love the Therapy Kitchen hand wash and hand lotion (both with lemongrass, lime and bergamot) what do you use in the kitchen? (These are the only products we've ever used in the kitchen, they work, they last for ages and smell amazing. Lemon and lemongrass scents are my favourites and yes they're stored in that basket on the counter all the time. And it's not sponsored or gifted).

This is not to say that I don't often wish I had a brand new home to set-up, or that I could get rid of the carpet in this rental of ours, or that we could start building our forever home NOW on that huge piece of land we bought in Fiji. I do but I've learnt to keep things in check. Fads don't excite me as much, and I understand that every fad and trend isn't for me (for my style, for my budget or my philosophy). Sometimes it takes a deep breath and a reminder that I do not need to constantly be shopping and buying things to be a blogger or Instagrammer. For those of you who know me, you know that I'm only purchasing an item a month and don't you think even for a minute that it didn't cross my mind what that goal would and could do to my blog and Instagram. Of course I considered it! I wouldn't have new shoes every other week to blog about. And then I laughed at myself...because that's all I could do. I had a good laugh, analysed the situation, sense prevailed and I stuck to my goals. 

Posted on Instagram: So so sick and home alone. What are your sick day guilty pleasures? (I didn't think it was necessary for people to see me blowing my nose. I was tired, irritable but I needed prettiness around me. I do silly things when I'm sick like wear my husbands knits and cry. That's normal in my house.) 

New designer shoes, business class boarding passes and cocktails all make great pictures but I could never and would never justify those expenses just for the sake of a bunch of photos that are consumed even quicker than I can gobble up a chocolate brownie! Now, to be honest, those three things factor a fair bit in my life (four things if you count the brownie). I couldn't afford them just for photos, but I can afford them in that, they are things that I like and are my personal preference. They are things I can pay for by saving up and not putting things on a credit card (still saying no to debit here!) We want people to share their 'real lives' so if that's part of my real life, does that make it wrong? When will we give up getting frustrated and annoyed for what someone else's 'real' is? You might think it's fake, superficial and materialistic but if that's their preference, it's their real. Un-follow them if it makes you unhappy. 

Posted on Instagram: As you do... (Taken in Lae, Papua New Guinea. THIS is the type of thing that happens to me all the time, and it might look contrived to those who don't know me, but really...this is me. And this photo was taken by someone else and given to me.) 

I think we (including me) need to have enough self-confidence and smart to be able to look at pictures and remind ourselves that that's all they are - pictures. I try to always share inspiring photos (or what I think are inspiring photos) even on 'bad' days. The caption on the photo often explains that it's been tough but the photo more often than not is a 'nice' one. That's my real, that's how I choose to live my life and get through the tough times. That's what my un-styled life is and looks like. All hell might be breaking loose but you can count that I will put a wonderful dinner on the table, which Miss 10 sets beautifully every day and alternates between cloth napkins and serviettes based on what she feels - not who's coming to dinner. That doesn't mean I don't deal with the hell that's breaking loose, I do, but I deal with the mess through talking. Taking a picture of Miss 10 giving me attitude, or of me crying with mascara down my face isn't going to inspire anyone, it certainly isn't going to inspire me. I make the conscious choice to share a picture of us in our happier times and open a discussion and conversation about the difficulty in parenting 10 year olds. That's my normal. That's my un-styled life. 

What does your normal look like?
What does your un-styled life look like? 
You might find this Instagram giveaway (end of the post) useful for growing an engaged community 
You can find me (or not) on Instagram at vanishalifeunstyled or here

Lessons In Mixing Prints

Monday, March 16, 2015

I'm not one to mix prints, at all. I play it safe with a lot of solids and subtle introductions of print and pattern. Early this summer I chanced upon this happy combination - to be honest a lot of this mixing and matching resulted out of the desire to really streamline my wardrobe. The only few prints I feel comfortable wearing and mixing together are polka dots, stripes and animal print. Anything more than that is a bit tricky for my brain. To help test the waters I've started up a Pinterest inspiration board on how to mix prints. I'm not sure how far I'll actually get but for the moment I'm enjoying this little discovery and the variety it brings to my 'looks'.
Some of the easiest and most cost-effective ways I've been able to play with and experiment with my style has been through the Popbasic collections. The monthly collections of basic and stand-out pieces have made me consider the missing basic links in my wardrobe but also what 'pop' pieces could work with what I have. Before the collections are released you have an opportunity to play with the pieces and create outfits on Polyvore which is great! I have friends who see how many outfit combinations they can create with the Popbasic items and what they have in their wardrobes on Polyvore before deciding if they should invest in the collection. Pinterest is also great for finding inspiration and figuring out how wear things you normally wouldn't wear or how to wear them in a way you normally wouldn't. 

I've also found that a great way to pull mixed print outfits together is through accessories. In my outfit, I like how the clutch (it's colour particularly) helped tie things together. If you're interested Popbasic have a leather clutch in the most amazing cobalt available at the moment and it comes with $100 worth of free jewellery - another useful aid in bringing outfits together! The clutch is $85 with free shipping, and you get $15 off if you use this link. Popbasic also have their Ariel collection launching in a few days, that basic tank in charcoal is on my list! You can also use the $15 credit towards the Ariel collection or any other available collection or product on their site. 

Do you experiment with prints? 
What are you favourite combinations? 

How To Take Good Instagram Photos

Friday, March 13, 2015

I've been humbled, amazed and slightly terrified by how quickly my Instagram has grown. I've had in real life and on-line friends ask me to do posts on how to grow your Instagram account, but more specifically how to take good photos for Instagram. So here it is. Today, I'm going to show you how I take my Instagram photos, in particular how I take what has come to be known as flat lays.

Confession: Many people think I have a big white table or big white thing of some sort that I take pictures like the ones below on. The truth is I use my window sill which is only 27.5cm wide (and I know this because I just measured it for the purpose of this post). It's long but not wide. It's one of the few white surfaces in my home that I can use for flat lays.

I have two big tips on how to take good Instagram photos one of them is good, natural lighting and the other is the surface or background against which you're taking the photo. I find that if I get the lighting and the surface right I need to do very little editing before sharing my photos on Instagram. I used my iPhone 5S for these photos.

Light: Everyone talks about light when it comes to photos. Through experience I have found that natural light works best. I never ever use flash, at all, ever, for anything. I find that I'd rather not take the photo than use the flash (but that's just me and I'm not a professional photographer....) In addition to natural light I also pay attention to a few others things.

The consistency of the light (I'm sure there's a technical term for this) I make sure that all the points of my photo receive equal amounts of light and that there aren't parts with shadows or with less light. Having uneven lighting also makes it harder for me to edit my images.

The colour of the light (obviously this isn't technical) but I have noticed at different times during the day my natural light has subtle hues. Over the past year I've paid attention to the light and its quality throughout my home. At certain points of the day the light is more blue (see photo with make-up above) than white. I like white, bright photos so I wait for when I know the light coming through the window and onto the sill is a nice white.

A note about lighting As I said I like white, light, bright photos, you might prefer moodier ones or softer ones. It all comes down to preference. Once you know what your style is you can start observing the light in your surroundings to determine where and when you get the best light for your photos.

Surfaces and Backgrounds: I prefer a white background/surface for my flat lays. This isn't saying it's the best option, it's just the one I prefer. Try out a few different options and see what works best for you and your Instagram gallery. None of the above photos have been edited. I've used fabric, paper, wrapper paper and timber as surfaces for my flat lays, the options are endless. Vintage fabric from op shops also works quite nicely for flat lays.

Bonus tip: Now here's where things get even more technical (not really) I learnt during a styling class many years ago that odd numbers make for better pictures. 1, 3, 5... items compared to 2, 4, 6... items. I looked back at my older images and noticed that I indeed prefer an odd number of items. Food for thought perhaps.

I'll be back next week with a post on how I edit my Instagram photos. But in the meantime, a little treat for all of you for your support and kindness. I'm teaming up with Brand Strategist and Designer Kayd Roy to offer one person a one-on-one consultation with Kayd, an Instagram Class of sorts. I did with class with Kayd and my Instagram just flourished. All you lovely people need to do is:

a) follow Me on Instagram
b) post a photo on your Instagram, in the caption tell us what you hope to learn (as general or specific as you want, Instagram related or not, there's no trick here) OR a big goal you have for 2015
c) tag a friend who you think could use some insight on how to better use Instagram generally or on how to use it to better market their business
d) don't forget to add #LifeUnStyledGiveaway

The giveaway is open worldwide, only new photos please, but you can enter as many times as you want. The winner will be announced on 31 March 2015. 

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