Thursday, 29 October 2015

Autumn scenes

Well, since I posted some winter pictures last winter and even some summer reading pictures, I thought I might as well post some shots of autumn scenes. These are from last weekend:

Monday, 26 October 2015

Chocolate making, trial run

One of the things I’ve always wanted to try is making my own chocolate. All right, maybe not always, but at least ever since I saw the movie “Chocolat”. And by making chocolate I mean more than just melting leftover chocolates and pouring the mass into molds, which is what I sometimes do.

But I’ve never quite known how and where to start and somehow never just got around to doing it. However, the other day a mysterious parcel arrived... I had no idea what it was, I hadn’t ordered anything, didn’t expect any package. It was a gift from a dear friend and it contained chocolate making materials! Wow. Just look at that gorgeous package:

There’s cocoa butter, agave syrup and cocoa powder with cocoa beans and some vanilla. And a pretty mold:

I was so excited!!! And very, very grateful to my friend who had decided to cheer me up with a surprise – and that she certainly did!

Now, I had to do some reading before I started, and I have to say I couldn’t quite figure out the correct ratio of each ingredient since every recipe I found was somewhat different. Some advised using extra virgin coconut oil in addition to cocoa butter, others used only cocoa butter. And the portions of each ingredient differed wildly. So I figured I’d start with a tiny, tiny batch and just... improvise. Which means that even though I started out measuring the ingredients, I kept adding this and that and in the end had no idea of how much I used each of them. Well. No matter. This was a trial run only, and yet, there are a couple of things I learned:

1. Cocoa butter, though it sounds delicious, doesn’t really have much of a flavour (yeah, of course I had to taste some, I was curious!).

2. If you add some coconut oil, you’ll end up with glossy chocolate that is easy to pour into the mold. However, the tasting jury strongly disliked the flavour of coconut oil.

3. If, however, you only use cocoa butter, the chocolate can become a little grainy (although that's mainly how it looked, the texture was fine when tasted) and less glossy. It also sets rather quickly – it was already becoming solid when I poured it into the mold (which explains the uneven look). I tried to warm it up gently, but to no avail. More experiments are needed to correct this. The taste, however, was far superior to that of the chocolate with coconut oil.

4. A little bit of agave syrup goes a long way, especially if you’re not trying to make very sweet chocolate.

5. If you give a seven-year-old free rein with decorative items to be added to chocolate, she’ll make an attempt to cover every inch of the chocolate rather than just sprinkle some here and there.

I wasn’t going to post a picture of the end result because I can’t get a decent photo (it’s too dark, so the chocolate looks kind of grey which it isn’t really) plus they don’t look particularly fabulous. :D And they're all in bits and pieces because, naturally, we had to sample some once soon as they were ready. However, since this was just a trial run and a learning experience, here we go...

As decorations/additives, we (my daughter was my (over-)enthusiastic assistant) used dried cranberries, bits of dried apricots and chopped almonds. The molds worked perfectly, it was very easy to get the finished chocolate out of them without breaking any.

This was a very interesting (and a very delicious) experiment and I’m already looking forward to giving it another try. Perhaps, next time, I’ll remember to measure the ingredients... And I already have soooo many ideas for different flavours! :)

Monday, 19 October 2015

Autumn holiday & visit to a chocolate factory outlet

Last week was autumn holiday and though we spent the time mostly relaxing (reading, writing, visiting the library, watching movies – we even made it to the theatre... twice!), we also made a short little trip to Jyväskylä, the town I like to refer to as the most romantic city in the world. There is a simple reason: it was there I met my husband and thus the place where we spent the first years of our relationship. Beautiful memories! We mostly just visited memorable places, such as this park where we often went for walks and picnics:

And the university campus; the library, the book store, an exhibit about the history of the university etc.

Don’t know if this piece of installation art in front of the library was meant to be interactive, but for a seven-year-old, it was an irresistible site for a game of hide and seek:

Like so many of our holidays, this one wasn’t complete without some Indian food and ice cream... and chocolate. One of the Finnish chocolate companies, Panda, has their factory close by... and there’s a factory outlet! They usually offer small samples for tasting as well as chocolate and licorice at reasonable prices. I especially liked their new invention: chocolate with witty wrappings! Some examples:

Onnen hetkiä -suklaa – Happy moments chocolate (Well, who wouldn’t appreciate a happy moment?)

Inspiraatio-suklaa – Inspiration chocolate (Needs no explanation.)

Rohkeasti vaan -suklaa – Just be brave chocolate (Sounds like something I desperately need!)

Pystyn mihin vaan -suklaa – I can do anything chocolate (Ah. I find myself in a serious need of this one.)

And finally... After imurointi -suklaa – After vacuuming chocolate (Yes! Now I’m actually excited about cleaning days!)

Monday, 12 October 2015

An award!

Well, look at that! My blog received an award!!! Wow! Thank you very, very much to my fellow blogger and dear friend from the stunningly beautiful Almond Valley!

All right. The award comes with 11 questions, so, without further ado, let's go on and answer them!

1. Autumn is coming – what’s the cosiest place in your home?

Probably the kitchen with a bouquet of yellow oak leaves (picked by my daughter), lots of candles and a lantern glowing in the window and, sometimes, the aromas of an apple pie drifting from the oven... I love apple pies, the scent of all those spices is an essential part of autumn. And I love autumns!

2. What sorts of potted plants do you have on your patio right now?

I’m so ashamed to admit this, but... nothing. Nothing at all. I don't have much of a green thumb, and since we spend very little time on the patio this time of year, it just never seemed like worth the trouble. To be honest, only a couple of days ago I did think that we should buy some plants to liven up the place, but then I forgot. I’d love to get some heather, though, they’re lovely! The days are getting colder and the night temperatures are below the zero, so not that many plants would even survive the weather. I think heathers would? Maybe? I have no idea.

Heather (image from Wikipedia):

3. The most beautiful thing you heard today?


4. Chocolate or salty liquorice?

Do you even need to ask? Chocolate, of course! I was never much of a salty liquorice fan, although I don’t hate it, either. I just never buy any. But hey, there are some chocolate + salty liquorice combinations that I like quite a lot!

5. Your favourite beverage at the moment?

I’m tempted to say hot chocolate because it would seem ideal in this weather, but I don’t actually drink it that much (I prefer to eat my chocolate. I’m weird that way. If you can eat something, why would you drink it? Drinkable yoghurt? No, I’d rather eat it with a spoon. Smoothies? No, I’d rather munch on the fruits and berries. Milkshakes? Just give me the ice cream!). So I’m going to go with mead. Because, well, Vikings. And it’s actually pretty perfect for cold, dark autumn evenings. And summer days. And sunny spring celebrations. And midwinter. And...

6. Do you hibernate?

Weeeell... maybe a little... If hibernation means that you’re less active in winter than in summer, that you prefer to curl up on the sofa with a good book and wear wool socks, then definitely yes! Winters are beautiful, the snow makes everything look like it’s another world altogether... but it’s hideously cold and the older I get, the less I tolerate the winter weather.

Books and bunny slippers. Essential components of proper hibernation. (Chocolate doesn't hurt, either.)

7. Describe your latest moment of inspiration.

Well, it has to do with writing... Yes, lately there’ve been times when my inspiration seems to have been... well, dead. But I’m currently writing something together with my DH, and the great thing about a shared project is that you can inspire each other... ;) No, what I mean is, sometimes you’re just stuck and don’t know what to do, where to go, but a chat about the text, the plot, the characters (even making fun of them!) can cause that ”Aha!” moment. And then you know what to do... and sometimes the inspiration that hits you is for a completely different part of the story, but hey, I’m not picky. Inspiration is inspiration! I'll take whatever I can get.

8. Would you rather go out for a walk/run or relax on the sofa?

That depends... okay, I can’t run (my body is broken, thanks to a stupid autoimmune disease, and it’ll get worse if I do stuff like running and jumping... which is a pity, because I used to love skipping rope!) and recently walking hurts, too. I know. Depressing. However, I don’t just sit around all day, either. I have a rowing machine and a stationary bike and a collection of dumbbells and weights... Because of the said illness, a workout session these days tends to be an exercise of imagination rather than that of the muscles – but I’m not giving up!

9. You made someone smile today – who was it?

My daughter. Not much of an achievement; she has a very sunny disposition and smiles and laughs a lot. :)

10. A topic you’d love to write a post about?

Um... this is a hard one, since I don’t really plan my posts in advance, just write whatever happens to occur to me. Well, I’ve been thinking of writing a post about my grandfather, because it was from him I inherited my love for stories.

11. What are you grateful for today?

My family and friends.

Now, the idea is that I'll pass the award on, along with a new set of questions, to some other bloggers (the blogs should have fewer than 200 members). So, here were go... these questions go to Wolfwood's Corner, Varicoloured, The Cult of Me and Drawings by Dell. Feel free to answer and/or pass the award on, if you have the time/interest.

Oh, and some more instructions: add the picture of the award to your post and mention the blog where you got it.

And, finally, the questions:

1. What's your favourite book? (You could see that one coming, didn't you?)
2. Your favourite lyrics?
3. If you could meet a historical figure (anyone!), who would that be?
4. Your favourite season?
5. What are you afraid of?
6. Your greatest strength?
7. Your biggest vice?
8. Would you want to live forever? Why/Why not? (Please specify conditions. :D)
9. What's your favourite word/expression?
10. The tastiest food you've ever eaten?
11. If you were to invent a time machine, where would you go and why? (And what would you do and how long would you stay and who/what would you take with you and...)

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Post 101

Well, it turns out that my previous post was my 100th post in this blog!

I've been blogging for about 18 months, and it seems that my original plan of posting maybe twice a month didn't quite work out... I've been posting more frequently than that.

It also seems that the chocolate reviews, which were supposed to be a bit of a joke, have been my most popular posts! Not that I complain; writing a review is a good excuse reason to eat some chocolate. ;)

People seem to find this review of Galler Chocolatier Noir 70 % Menthe - Citron Vert particularly interesting. I have no idea why. It was wonderful chocolate, though!

I was also just supposed to try blogging and see how it goes... well, there have been times when I've thought about giving it up (mainly because of the old problem: so much to do, so little time) but here we are. It's been interesting and fun... and since I mostly write here for that reason, for fun, I'm afraid any deeper reflections and trying to say something profound after reaching this "milestone" would be rather useless. (Plus, too much pressure. ;) )

One thing I want to say, however: whether you're one of the regular visitors or just happened to stop by, thank you for reading!