The Simple Things

With my life being so busy at the moment – I feel I hardly have any time to myself – I’m taking great pleasure in the little things. In the things which take little energy or effort. The Simple Things In Life.

My favourite recipes are quick and easy; the sort which can be committed to memory after one or two attempts and can be adapted without trouble.

As an example, chocolate truffles. The basic recipe I use can be adapted for all sorts of flavours and types of chocolate, and these days, can be made in about 5 minutes. 20 if you include the rolling out. And I suppose there’s the 3 hours or so waiting for the mixture to set.

RaspberryTruffles.jpg

I prefer to use dark chocolate – it seems to handle the melting and mixing process more happily than milk or white. In fact, unless absolutely necessary, I don’t use milk chocolate at all.

White chocolate is so-so. The fat tends to come out more with white chocolate which gives the mix an odd appearance, but doesn’t affect the taste. Might just be the cheap chocolate, of course. On the other hand, it’s better for more delicate flavours than dark, which can overpower.

The above truffles are raspberry and coconut. With a splash of mango vodka.

 

(Almost) According to ScandiKitchen: Kladdkaka

There is a café just off of Oxford Street. (There’s probably a lot of cafés off of Oxford Street.) I can’t remember exactly where, but you can get there in almost a straight line from Goodge Street, from the street opposite Paperchase, with the Tesco Metro on it. Walk along there for about ten minutes or so.

Actually, that might be a lie. You might have to turn off it somewhere. It’s been a while.

Anyway, this café, ScandiKitchen, is a home away from home for Scandinavian expats. It provides Scandinavian food and a small grocery section for imports. Like reindeer meat. And Scandinavian licorice. But I go for the cakes.

One of the things I miss the most about my time in Sweden is the baked goods. Sweden has some wonderful cake recipes. Especially kladdkaka. I normally describe this as a sort of brownie-cake, and my ScandiKitchen recipe book say it literally means sticky cake.

Kkaddkaka.jpg

This isn’t the one I made, but a picture of the picture in the book. Mine was eaten too quickly for photographs.

It’s a reasonably quick and simple recipe too:

2 eggs

200g sugar

100 butter, melted and cooled slightly

150g flour

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

Teaspoon of vanilla

  1. Whisk together eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Stir in dry ingredients and vanilla
  3. Add melted butter and mix well.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 in a 20 cm cake tin

The crust should need a little pressure to crack but the cake shouldn’t be completely cooked. The middle should still be a bit runny – it’ll set once cooled.

Best served with a dollop of cream.

Mine, I think, was slightly overdone. Still tasty, but I feel it probably should not have broken neatly in half when I picked it up…

P.S. – Apologies for the delay – one of those weeks!

How Thick is a Piece of Wool?

Answer: How long is it? Although, you’re more likely to receive a definitive answer about its thickness than about its length.

I began my crochet journey with normal, standard, double-knit yarns and 4-5mm crochet hooks. Since then, I’ve played with Chunky yarns, and 6-7mm hooks, and 4-ply sock wool, with 2mm hooks.

ProjectBag

As you can see, I currently have two crochet projects on the go – one in the 4-ply, and one in the Chunky.

My preference, I have decided (and it wasn’t a difficult decision, I’ll be honest), is for the thicker yarns. I find them easier for counting and for hooking through the stitches and for generally crocheting.

Titchy-witchy 4-ply wool and attendant dinky hook – frankly, just too fiddly for words. There’s probably an art to it which I simply haven’t worked out yet. Or you need thinner, more elegant fingers than I have. Especially when it comes to making the limbs of these monsters. I’m a bit further along than this photo suggests, having completed the body of the 4-ply monster, but I’ve been having trouble with the first limb. It’s the 12 stitch tube for the arm. I keep adding extra stitches as I go around. (Fingers crossed I’ve finally worked it out – but it has taken me about half a dozen false starts!)

I don’t have these problems with the thicker yarns. Okay, I probably have the adding in extra stitches one, (but don’t we all?) but it’s much easier to find the extra stitch and head back to remove it.

 

P.S. – I’ve decided that my craft weeks will likely be just the one post, and that I really rather like writing about chocolate, so I’ll probably talk about that more than just for one week a month. Probably Life will become somewhat more chocolatey. This is a good thing, I feel.

 

VCT: A Brief History of Chocolate

The pinnacle of chocolate-ness, that which history and tradition has declared The Best, is that which is made in Belgium or Switzerland.

And yet, and yet…The cacao tree isn’t native to Europe; indeed, it doesn’t even grow here save for in tropical biomes. It isn’t even native to Africa. Growing within 20 degrees of latitude of the Equator, it comes from Central America – from Peru and Ecuador and Mexico.

Chocolate began life as a drink, the beans roasted and ground into a paste with water, and flavoured with chili. Introduced to Europe by the Conquistadors, it was only when the Spanish began sweetening it with honey or sugar that this new drink found favour with the court.

And later, experiments were made, to make it better, more consistent, tastier, cheaper. It wasn’t until 1847, though, that John Fry worked out how to make solid chocolate. Then the greats of chocolate began – Daniel Peter used Henri Nestlé’s powdered milk, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine, John and Benjamin Cadbury received a royal warrant from Queen Victoria. And in 1893, Milton S. Hershey established his chocolate factory in Chicago.

Nowadays, the majority of cacao comes from the Ivory Coast, cacao beans having made their way to Africa, and further afield, during European colonisation.

And makers are going the other way – more expensive, artisan, chocolate. Single-origin. Cheap, mass-produced bars are still on the shelves, but there’s growing demand for higher quality. For chocolate which tastes like chocolate, and not sugar or non-cacao vegetable fats. Or is that just me?

The Virtual Chocolate Tour

Before one embarks on any journey, one must prepare.

For a journey of this magnitude – I hope to take in as many of the chocolate-producing countries as I can – one must make a lot of preparations. For one thing, off the top of my head, I can only think of a handful of countries which grow cacao trees. I’m sure there are more. For another, because I will sadly not be visiting the countries in person, I will need to source as many different single-origin bars of chocolate as I can.

A brief search of the internet offers me at least twenty chocolate-producing countries. A quick trip to the nearest supermarket offers me four single-origin bars: Peru, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic. Finding bars of the rest might take some time – Mexico, Madagascar, Ecuador, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Cameroon, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Granada, Cuba, Somao (among others).

I look forward to my tour, beginning, I think, in Peru. I think it is time for me to find my favourite chocolate. I’ve been a fussy sort of chocolate-eater since I was about eighteen, when I first started making truffles, and began reading labels.

When it comes to tasting chocolate, I know that you can tell a good bar by the sound of its snap. It should be a quick, clean sound. And then you let the chocolate melt, slowly, on your tongue to let the flavours release.

 

The Life of a Crafter

My plan for today’s post is uncertain. It says “Easter card?”.

When I was planning this revamp, and deciding what to write about and when, I decided that I have four general topics – cross-stitch, crochet, chocolate, and Life – and that each week two posts would be written. Nice theory, not sure about the execution, especially given my current, busy life. That, and, especially with the crafts, there are only so many posts which can be “Look! Look what I did – aren’t I amazeballs? Clever me to make this!”

Thus – the Life of the Crafter. This crafter, specifically, but no doubt there will be some universals which apply to all crafters.

My crafting life has been sporadic. I stitched as a child – I like hand-sewing items, more so than machine-sewing – but in fits and starts.

Pooh's Thinking Cushion

I started cross stitching in earnest about four years ago, with a Mouseloft hedgehog, and then a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet cushion cover. And that was that. I was caught.

I’ve extended my crafting repertoire to crochet since then, though my sewing machine remains sadly neglected. I have plans to change that, eventually – I received a quilting kit for my last birthday, primarily to help with cutting straight edges for cushions, but at some point I will also learn to quilt.

Stitching in Springtime

SpringGarden2

The beginning of April has brought with it sunnier, more optimistic weather. I’ve seen humble bumbles and many many ladybirds and the flowers are making their presence seen.

I don’t blame the kitty for trying to hide in the daffodils. Now is the time for sunshine and daisies and enjoying the weather and looking forward to summer.

The only problem, I find, is that the longer evenings make me feel like I should be doing something other than curling up on my sofa, cross-stitch or crochet in hand, not being outside in the evening sun…