The (Mucho) Joy of Chocolate

Ridiculously proud of the shine on those chocolates…

Friends, I experimented with the idea of home-made favours. I took my Lakeland chocolate mould, I made whisky truffles and I filled said chocolate mould (beforehand coating the moulds with a thin layer of plain chocolate) with the truffle mixture and I sighed in a Nigella Lawson style domestic goddess ‘I make my own’ stuff type contentment…

I did NOT. Yes to filling the chocolate mould, yes to the making my own truffles, but absolutely no to the ‘sighing in contentment’ thingie. Two-thirds of the way through lining the chocolate moulds I got bored and shortcuts were taken. The blasted truffles did not seem to stick together. My hands got seriously dirty. Chocolate worked its way underneath my nails and made me look like a dedicated gardener (reader, that could not be further from the truth).

In short, the whole exercise was a lesson in why people buy chocolates for their favours. Mind you, in true chef privilege style I did taste some of the truffle mixture and it was a bit wow-ee. It’s pretty easy too so here goes…

225g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids and above naturally)

75ml double cream

3tbsp whisky*

1 tsp vanilla essence

Finely chopped hazelnuts (or other ideas, see below)

Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a non-metallic bowl in the microwave. Put on for 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate has melted. Stir well, add the vanilla essence and leave to cool till room temperature. Add the whisky, then use an electronic whisk to beat the mixture for five minutes until it seems lighter and is paler in colour.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so until firm. Roll the chocolate mixture into balls (about walnut-sized shape) and then roll in either cocoa, chopped nuts, grated white chocolate or icing sugar. Eat within four days. They should be kept (covered) in the fridge.

If you do make them, please let me know and tell me what you think! You can substitute the whisky for Cointreu or Bailey’s too.

 

 

*I want to love whisky. It’s such a romantic drink. Think whisky, think sitting in front of a roaring log fire having hiked four or five hours up and down hills, think ancient clan chiefs sneaking the distillery away from the excise men (and Rabbie Burns was one!). Unfortunately, it still tastes pretty cough mixture to me.

The Muse, London Marathon et al

We seek her here, we seek her there – we seek that damned muse everywhere…

Blasted muse wasn’t here either, despite lovely setting!

Nope, writing inspiration is still in short supply (oh the horrors of the blank white page). I thought about blogging a steak pie recipe – bear with me here, oh dear few and loyal readers – in that I  genuinely made up the recipe, it did look delicious and it is a pretty easy way to fill your home with delicious aromas and contented men.

[Yup, you make this and all of a sudden, open your front door and there are queues of handsome, eligible gentlemen ready to eat your wares, compliment your cookery skills and sigh in satisfaction. It’s all gone a bit Stepford Wives.]

My excuse is that I’ve been blogging for Social Media Week Glasgow this week – attending events and writing up reports afterwards. All great fun and plenty of learning. I include links to my reviews of the events I attended – mindfulness & social media and NHS collaboration through social media.

Still searching for writing topics here though… An email popped into my inbox this week. Way back in the beginnings of 2011, I thought running a marathon might be… well, not fun, but perhaps a achievement to aim for so I said, ‘yes, put my name in for the 2013 London marathon‘.

Easy to make these promises when the future looks miles away, hmm? And lo, I get an email this week from the charity I work for saying, hey, we’ve got two places for you and friend for the 2013 London marathon.

Eeks. My first thought – ‘oh ho, training for the marathon may well guarantee wedding dress size smaller thing, hmm?’ Second thought – ‘lordy, I will have material to blog about forever more. I can talk about training, I can share my pain, I can post about the miles I’m clocking up each week, I can talk about what you eat for running long distances and generally become a complete running bore’. Happy days!

Then a friend made a valid point. Running the London marathon for charity three weeks before I get married has a few risks. Time, for example. Possible injury which rules me out of walking down the aisle as another. And also, it would mean that I’d be approaching the same people for sponsorship who would be attending my wedding meaning that they would inevitably lose patience splashing out on moi.

So, the marathon is a no-no (feel free to approach me if you would like to run on behalf of Carers Trust, though). And the ease of thinking up blog topics forever more ruled out too, bah.

Finally, I’d like to direct your attention to Patrick – now he is a gent imbibed with mucho talent. He takes great pics, he and his friends go for great adventures and then he writes it all up in a cool way and he is ARTISTIC, blast him!

For Want of Witty Wedding Words

Och, where’s the muse when you want her? She’s sadly not been at my beck and call the last week or so.

I kept trying to think up wedding-related topics and the wise, witty words that might accompany them. I came up with… a big, fat nothing. Woe! I also got caught up in a great book* and the priority of my free time was reading. The minutes left after that I felt I should devote to my fiancé to maintain harmonious domestic relations and ensure there WILL indeed be a wedding in May of next year.

The muse still isn’t in the nearby vicinity so I thought I’d post a rather prosaic progress update.

Venue: booked and non-refundable** deposit paid (New Lanark Mill Hotel).

Registrar: booked and non-refundable deposit paid.

Photographer: booked and non-refundable deposit paid (James Solly Photography).

Dress: no. Do I need to panic about this? I just tend to change my mind a lot and thought if I bought something too early, I’d see at least 10 better options after that.

Guest list: drawn up with my fiancé after we’d had a glass or two of wine (we were filled with bonhomie). Still needs finalised and er… possibly edited. Other names keep drifting in and out of my consciousness, accompanied by an internal shriek of alarm.

Invites: my talented brother-in-law (he created the lovely header above) is kindly doing these for me. I’m emailing them out to save money.

Wedding cake: I’m making this myself. The logistics of this exercise are beginning to bother me, though. How will I transport it, how will I decorate it, if I make it too far in advance will it go mouldy and give my guests food poisoning, when will I make it so that I’m not decorating the b*****y thing the night before I get married? Perhaps best to stick to the cheese cake idea (literally, a ‘cake’ made from rounds of cheese; the Atkins solution to wedding cake).

There is progress of sorts on other things – diet coke desertion. I used to drink two litres of the stuff every day. I stopped drinking it for just over two weeks, then caved and am now drinking one bottle a day. Oh, it’s such a lovely, lovely treat…

Reducing resting heart beat rate to 60 per minute (bid to do lots of cardio and be slimline bride). I just counted it; 72Bpm – after many spin classes and many circuit classes (and a few tears). A wee bit of work still needed on this then!

 

*Diana Gabaldon: The Voyager. I love it when you discover a writer you love and then find out that they are prolific.

**Something very, very scary about the words ‘non-refundable deposit’.

Tell Me Why I Don’t Like Mondays…

Fruit: very, very, very good for you.

Oh dear! Of late, there’s been a little too much lotus-eating in my life. Cheese, chocolate and wine have featured prominently. For those of you who like to live precariously through others’ indulgence, I’ll ‘fess up…

Marks and Spencer’s Blacksticks blue cheese on toast with butter, chocolate fudge pudding with squirty cream [the purists may not approve, but squirty cream is FAB], and the most glorious Rioja sipped at levels the Government definitely does NOT recommend. So, I’m feeling a bit bleurgh.

If the small size wedding dress is still to remain a goal, I fear we’re back to auld claes and cold porridge for a few days (I’ve referred to this previously; it’s a Western Isles saying which means the return to sobriety after the excesses of celebration). Fruit, early morning exercising, fish, water, water, water…

Carling Don’t do Yorkshire Puddings, But if They Did…

A modest helping of roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, veg and red wine gravy.

Writing a blog requires a certain amount of discipline. Here I am on a Sunday – wishing no more than to splat on the sofa watching catch up TV (current favourite: Celebrity Masterchef) – but no, any guide to blog writing talks about the importance of regularity*, so I racked my brain for a suitable subject…

… and ended up with food once more! To tie the subject in with my alleged blog main theme (weddings, those of you have kindly signed up to follow me regularly – and I do think you are the most wonderful specimens of humanity – may note that this blog uses the theme of ‘wedding’ very loosely) I thought I’d blog this time about cooking for your intended.

Now, I adore food – to eat, to read about, to watch on TV. But I am the world’s most boring eater. I tend to eat the same thing day in, day out. If you are what you eat, I am a mixture of houmous, prawns, salad, bananas and cheese. Ooh, and er… red wine and a wee bit of chocolate.

I read recipes, I explore cookery websites, I flick through cook books in WH Smith as I while away time in train stations, imaging how I would improve dishes etc etc. And all of this activity is wasted on moi – as I am le mangeur ennuyeux** and too terrified to venture outside of my eating comfort zones. Happily though, my fiance loves being experimented on so I get to explore my creative side without having to throw out loads of food.

Pastry? He’s as happy as Larry to try. New curry recipes via the slow cooker? Contented man. Lorraine Pascale’s lasagne – thinks it’s super-duper. Home-made pizza – just make sure you roll the base thin enough. Fudge chocolate cake pudding – he’s demanding a second helping, albeit with feedback on the cooking time. [Maybe three minutes less next time.] White chocolate cheesecake – not as good as your mum’s… (HUH!)

So, on Saturday evening, in deeply traditional fashion, I thought I’d cook up a proper roast dinner. Namely, the roast beef of old Scotland.*** Meat in a hot oven! Potatoes in goose fat! Yorkshire pudding! Proper gravy!

The results of these endeavours have been posted  in pictorial form above (I can’t tell you how proud of I am of those Yorkshires, thank you Barney Desmazery). And, um, there was a wee bit of bossiness on my part while undertaking this operation and appointing my fiance as sous chef – “baste that beef”; “move that oven shelf down”; “heat the dish for the Yorkshire puddings”. [Pour me wine!]

All of these cookery tricks did demand certain skills from me – timing mainly. The potatoes were done long before the meat so they lost their initial crunchiness. And I overcooked pudding, woe. I can’t tell you how this tasted either, as I’m one of those wishy-washy types who refuses to eat meat, but suffers no qualms when it comes to fish. (Sentimental and egotistical human attachment to mammals possibly?)

But blimey, the house smelled amazing for hours afterwards, even if the oven most definitely now needs thorough cleaning. (Not my job, ha!)

 

*I apologise for the word ‘regularity’; it sounds unfortunately too close to what people use as descriptions for their bowel habits.

**Literal translation – ‘boring eater’. Not entirely sure if it should be masculine or feminine.

***Delia Smith refers to it as the roast beef of old England; our beef was definitely Celtic.

 

 

Artistic Pretensions, Moi?

Fate festooned me with many blessings.

I was born in the western world – hunger, financial hardship and violent war haven’t been anything I have ever experienced. I was born to parents who absolutely adored my sisters and I and distributed love, money and time with largesse. I keep good health, as do most of those around me, and I have met with many wonderful people I am lucky enough to call friends.

Plus, all the things I like – cats, books, wine, good food and company – are all readily available to me on a weekly basis. Joy!

Before this gets a little too sickly, do know that there is something I still hanker for, even though it seems a might ungrateful.

I wish I had artistic abilities…

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late and how this might apply to a budget wedding. If I was artistically inclined, for instance, I would find flowers at wholesale and create my own beautiful table decorations. A friend recently commented that I could make my own favours for my wedding using the colour theme and I thought to myself: “blimey, a colour scheme, I never even thought of that!”. See, she has aesthetic sensibilities (her flat is decorated par excellence) and I’m 300 light years away from even getting a ‘c’ grade in school level art.

This is the before version - not yet cooked

The extent of my artistic ability; home-made pizza with careful basil leaf arrangement

Let’s take decorating my own cake, say. (Determined to make my own cake – that bit doesn’t require too much in terms of an imaginative eye, just patience and the ability to measure properly.) I picked up a book recently: The Busy Girl’s Guide to Cake Decorating – and perhaps this is the answer to the non-artistic person’s desire for creativity.

The Busy Girl (aka Ruth Clemens) suggests lovely ideas such as butterfly biscuits – you make them using cutters. Foolproof surely, even for the Pictionary dunce that I am. Then, you get smaller cutters and stamp out sugar paste before giving it a light dusting of powder and glitter and then placing on top of the biscuits. So, quite simple and possibly a favour idea…?

Ms Clemens is self-taught and her cake decorating ideas look relatively simple – so long as you can perfect that covering cakes with sugarpaste/marzipan technique. [It’s a lot flamin’ harder than it looks – smoothness is your goal, lumpiness, air bubbles, cracks et al are often the reality.]

In my ideal world*, I’d be sticking flower stems into chunks of oasis (no, not the band, but this weird, green & spongy stuff you use in flower arrangement), throwing colour co-ordinated scarves elegantly over my shoulder, and using a mixture of icing sugar, egg white and colouring to create some moulded sculpture sitting atop of cake guaranteed to make guests go “mmm” and “ahhh”.

But surrendering the ego – who but me will care that the cake is home-made? Who but me will be bothered by the fact that the favours have been out-sourced? Who but me will remark that the floral decorations weren’t created in-house (so to speak)?

Aye, no one!

 

 

*I’d also have upgraded to the design pro bit of WordPress! I could have my own fonts! I could juggle around text boxes (I think) and upload videos! Er… these might be limited to cookery demonstrations so posibly, dear reader, you aren’t missing out.

 

Together Forever… Whatever?

In precisely eight months’ time, I get to stand up in front of beloved family and friends and say: “I do.” (Should Mama Nature spare us and providing neither of us decide there is a better other half out there – y’know I can’t predict the future.)

Neither of us are religious: I am an out and out non believer and my fiancé describes his religious beliefs as “weak and conventional”. So, we have chosen a registrar wedding rather than a religious service.

The privilege of this is that one does get a say on one’s vows. My fiancé is pretty excited about this. He reckons he can work in something which results in me vowing to be his lawfully wedded wench, possibly also resurrecting the obey bit (as if!) whilst I am wondering about a long term promise, via wedding vows, to always fetch me wine when I ask, and forgive me my grumpiness as I forgive those who grumpy against me.

I’m very fond of my engagement ring…

One wedding vow I have been mulling over is the “in sickness and health bit”. Thanks to having relatives that lived to very old age (the magnificent Granny B lived to 101) and perhaps through a heightened awareness of the issue because of the organisation I work for, this one’s a bit of a clincher…

Some 17 years ago, my fiancé had a bad motorbike accident; unconscious for a long time, blood transfusion, permanent disfigurement etc. His future is likely to include a walking stick at the very least. I myself have a chronic condition which means cataracts may blind me, dialysis is a possibility and heart disease four times more likely. The ‘in sickness’ bit is just that bit much more likely to happen.

Projections for the future estimate that three in five of us will end up in an unpaid caring role. That brings with it all sorts of challenges – a relationship changing, the loss of independence, equality, finances and savings, not to mention loneliness, isolation and resentment.

Fate works in its own wee way. And there are plenty of self help tomes which will recommend that you always live in the present.

In sickness and in health… With the intelligent bit of ourselves, we can work out that the ‘in sickness’ bit is much more probable. Does that put me off? Not a chance!

 

The Plank and Teenage Confessions

Oh, I don’t mean to boast…

It’s just not British, and particularly not Scottish, to boast. Self-depreciation is our national sport and we view with suspicion (often rightly) those who blow their own trumpets. But er… here goes…

Some people don’t like them; I kinda love them.

I’ve joined a gym. Relevance to wedding blog – it’s probably obvious. I’m striving for Madonna arms ahead of planned wedding dress perusal venture planned in the next few months. Last night, said establishment held an abs challenge in class and I won [I’ve shrunk the font size to try to minimise the boast] as I held the plank for 5 minutes and 35 seconds.

The plank is a move beloved of gym instructors and you can see a good demonstration of how to do it here. I felt like a woman of STEEL afterwards!

I’m now going to try to justify this boast. My school days were relatively happy and incident-free once we’d all got beyond the age of 15 (the height of teenage girl dreadfulness); however, I used to absolutely dread PE classes as they involved mainly competitive sports and I was utterly rubbish.

Like many teenage girls, I dropped PE as soon as I could and wrote myself off as an unfit, unsporty person. I’m hoping that doesn’t sound too self-pitying. Worry not, dear readers – my lack of sporting ability didn’t damage me that badly and not having to run around a frozen hockey pitch on a Saturday morning as those whose ball skills far exceeded mine had to do was definitely a big bonus.

As a result of this early sporting uselessness, any fitness achievement means a great deal to me. It’s a way of saying ‘ya boo sucks’ to that PE department of old. So indulge me my turn on the trumpet (does that sound vaguely rude?); it’s closure on teen failure!

Fortune Favours the Spendthrift

Favours – again, what’s with weddings and daft names..? Wedding breakfast when you probably don’t mean bacon and eggs eaten at 9am and favours when you mean small gifts dished out to guests.

Should the budget bride splash out on such extravagances? You can pay a small fortune for customised miniatures, bottle stoppers*, chocolates et al. Again though, the pink, frothy tidal wave that is wedding planning may well sweep me off my feet and I’ll feel as if my wedding just isn’t right without some wee piece of kitsch to give out at the end of proceedings.

Sweet, sweeter, sweetest? On sale at Lakeland. Diabetics, look away now

So, I could make my own… I visited Lakeland at Windermere recently. Any bakers out there? If so, you’ll know what a huge deal Lakeland Windermere is; the mothership of baking. Here, all kinds of wonderful things are available to buy – moulds, tins, chocolate melts, sugar paste, sugar craft. If baking and all things creatively culinary is your thing, best leave the credit card safely at home.

I picked up a handmade chocolate mould at said store, so I’m wondering about venturing down the home-made chocolates road. This could get really serious! I could temper the chocolate for a smooth, glossy finish. Then there could be a variety of fillings:

Alas, my concentration span isn’t the longest**. I fear I would embark on this fine endeavour and get really, really bored half-way through, quality control would dip rapidly and the guests would end up with half a chocolate each. This probably needs a re-think…

LATE NEWS

Flash update! I’ve been diet coke free for two weeks. So, my teeth feel better (less sensitive), my stomach feels flatter and I feel as if my energy levels are more evenly spaced throughout the day.

There is an awful lot of miraculous things written about deserting the D-word, including the weight loss one. Y’know, you stop drinking something rammed packed full of nasty chemicals and suddenly you lose three or four pounds. Sadly, not true in my case…

 

 

*I love these bottle stoppers, but they would cost in excess of £300 for all of my guests…

**Personally, I blame the iPhone. Instant access to all those apps has ruined me forever.