Chocolate on tap

IMG_2620What is it about writers and chocolate? With a name like Kandy, I was predestined to have a sweet tooth, and chocolate is my favorite sweet treat by far. But I don’t have to look far among my author colleagues to find an abundance of writerly chocoholics.

Is there a link between creativity and chocolate consumption? It’s said eating chocolate releases endorphins—feel good hormones—in the brain, so that might help kick along the creative process. Chocolate is also said to affect serotonin levels in the brain, which could help relieve stress (deadlines?) and depression (writer’s block and deadlines?)

Who knows? I’m not really looking for an explanation—more likely an excuse for the scatterings of chocolate wrappers around my desk!

I loved the strawberry and pistachio the best from this delectable array

Lindt chocolatiers’ taste experiments – I loved the strawberry and pistachio the best from this delectable array

Being a self-confessed chocoholic, I didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to the “chocolate carpet” launch of the Lindt Chocolate Café concept at the site of the original Martin Place site in the heart of the city of Sydney, Australia.

Okay, so the carpet was actually red, not chocolate, but the second my “plus one” daughter and I got inside we were surrounded by chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

IMG_2587

Lindt Master Chocolatiers at the Maître Station

I’ve visited the Lindt Café before (what self-respecting Sydney chocoholic hasn’t!) but  now it looks quite different. The most prominent new feature is the Maître Station where you can watch the Lindt Master Chocolatiers at work creating their delectable creations. The scent of so much chocolate so close is intoxicating!

The Mocha Macchiato were a hit

The Mocha Macchiato were a hit

There’s also the Chocolate Tap, an outsized metal tap from which Lindt Chocolate copiously flows. I nearly swooned! On the launch night, the baristas made use of the chocolate tap to create potent chocolate shots, as well as Mocha Macchiato comprising dark chocolate, milk and espresso coffee topped with a chocolate shard.

LIndt Australia Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler, tempting me with the best macarons I've ever tasted

Lindt Australia Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler, tempting me with the best macarons I’ve ever tasted

Highlights of the evening? Meeting Lindt Australia’s charming Swiss-born Master Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler; taste-testing experimental new chocolates; and eating the best-ever macarons, which Lindt calls délice. I also watched, amazed, as a fellow guest emptied out some of the abundant displays of Lindor Balls to fill a bucket to take home. Who could blame him!

We took home lots of treats

We took home lots of treats

We went home with a goodie bag which kept the Lindt experience going for several days afterwards. I didn’t need to be persuaded  to “Surrender to Indulgence”!

Oh, and my beautiful university student daughter had her photo taken for a foodie blog and the Sunday newspaper social pages—she was beyond thrilled!

Visit the Lindt Chocolate Café, 53 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW, 2000. (What a great place for a writers’ meeting!)

KandyShepherd_ReinventingRose800Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her new release is the contemporary women’s fiction (aka chicklit!) Reinventing Rose, where the main character indulges in chocolate at the merest hint of feeling down!

Kandy’s romances include The Castaway Bride, Something About JoeLove is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is.

Advertisements

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Do you have a food you loathe? Until quite recently my reply would have included rhubarb. Sharp, stringy, nasty tasting stuff (or that’s what I used to think!)

When I was a kid my grandmother tried to trick me into eating it set in red jelly (Jello). I wasn’t fooled.  Rhubarb stayed on my food-hate list for years and years. Then we bought our farm and inherited two magnificent rhubarb plants. For years visitors admired them; for years I replied, “I hate the stuff.” For years my husband said, “I like it.” But I still didn’t harvest it or cook with it. Poor husband! (Not that he isn’t a good cook himself, but only if he has a recipe to follow.)

This rhubarb plant dies down to nothing in the winter

Would you believe this rhubarb plant dies down to nothing in the winter?

Then a writer friend started to bring a rhubarb cake with her when she visited. It tasted so good! Maybe, just maybe I should try cooking my own rhubarb from my own rhubarb plants?

So I harvested—gingerly, as those big leaves are poisonous. And stewed some with sugar until it was way too mushy. Not just my husband, but also my daughter loved it. They pleaded for more. So I tried again. This time no water, just sugar and a piece of vanilla bean, and a not-so-long cooking time. Success!

Freshly picked from the garden

Freshly picked from the garden

It’s become the family’s second-favorite breakfast treat, served with yogurt. (The first favorite is the plums from our ancient tree, but they’re only around in January in the Down Under summer.) Rhubarb is a source of vitamins, anti-oxidants and dietary fibre so that’s all good.

One of these rhubarb plants flourishes all year round. The second one is gone at the first hint of frost, but emerges in spring as beautiful ruby-red sprouts pushing up from the ground and rapidly unfurling into the so-valued stalks and the huge  leaves. The experts say not to let the white flowers bloom as they take nourishment away from the stalks, but sometimes I let them bloom, and it doesn’t seem to diminish the quality of the stalks.

I know spring is here when the rhubarb plant starts to sprout

I know spring is here when the rhubarb plant starts to sprout

And me? Did I fall in love with my rhubarb? Not really. I like it, but I don’t love it like my family does. How I enjoy it is in muffins where the slight tartness of the rhubarb puts a pleasing edge to the sweetness of the muffin. I make my favorite muffin recipe, put half the muffin mixture in the muffin tin hole, add a teaspoon of the rhubarb-stewed-with-vanilla, cover with the rest of the mixture and top with more rhubarb and a teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. The streusel topping becomes all crunchy and the caramelized fruit juice drips down into the muffin. Now that’s the way I love to eat rhubarb!

Rhubarb streusel muffins just out of the oven

Rhubarb streusel muffins just out of the oven

And my writer friend who brings me the marvelous rhubarb cakes? Two springs past, I dug up some of the new-growth rhizome to take home with her. She now also has a flourishing rhubarb plant—and when she brings me cake, it’s made with “my” rhubarb, transplanted and thriving in her garden.

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her books include The Castaway Bride, Something About Joe, Love is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is—and while food plays a part in her stories, so far rhubarb has not made an appearance!

In praise of plums

Our plums on the tree

One of the very special things about an old house is the garden that comes with it.  Our farmhouse is graced with wonderful fruit trees—some of them more than fifty years old, our neighbors tell us. The star is a gnarled old plum tree that each year bears an abundance of superb plums—more than enough for us and for the flocks of birds that also appreciate its fruit. The windfalls are enjoyed by our chickens, horses and little bulls.

Never happier than when picking his birthday plums

A cool, gray wet summer this year meant we didn’t get much bounty from the other fruit trees or the vegetable garden. But the plum tree more than made up for that by giving us hundreds of perfect fruits. My husband has a particular love for the plum tree, it bears fruit around about his birthday in January and he sees the crop as a gift just for him. He’s very possessive of them!

Happy harvest!

Over the last few years, I’ve learned how to save the plums as jams and preserved in jars (though nothing like the perfect preserves I admire made by the experts). I freeze them too, but our electricity supply can be erratic when storms rage through our valley so I don’t like to risk too many in the freezer!

Stewed with vanilla and cinnamon

The family favorite is plums stewed with sugar, a vanilla pod and a cinnamon quill. “Make enough for the whole year, please,” demands my daughter who likes to eat them with muesli and yogurt for breakfast.

Stacked ready to freeze

I did my best to fill her order, with hubby helping to wash and stone and cut (and snack!).  But in spite of our best efforts, work and writing and everything else got in the way and I didn’t quite manage a year’s supply this time. Preserving fruit is hot, hard, time-consuming work! However there is a still a satisfying number of containers stored away in pantry and freezer. And, yes, I confess, I’m guilty of holding open the cupboard doors and gloating over them!

Plum upside down cake - yum!

We have no idea what variety our plums are—we just enjoy them and hope we’ll be enjoying them for years to come…