Friday, November 30, 2007

Chocolate as Fuel

And not just for humans! I know I can definitely run further and faster on chocolate, but now it appears cars can too!

This provided interesting canape conversation last night so I thought it was about time I wrote about it in my blog:

Two chaps from the UK, Andy Pag and John Grimshaw, have converted a truck and two 4WD vehicles to run on the misshapes of chocolates and are travelling to Timbuktu. Brilliant! I'm so excited about the use of this "chocolate" (I don't think they're using top notch stuff here) for fuel. This trip is not just carbon neutral, it's carbon negative. Though this calculation includes the fuel that will be offset in the coming year if the citizens of Mali use the biofuel conversion machine they are delivering. But it's also because if they weren't using the chocolate rejects for fuel they would only be taking up space in a dump somewhere.

It also works out at about 15p/litre. (That's about US $1.16/gallon.) Isn't it great when things are good for the environment and good for your wallet?

Nice work, gentlemen!

Check out more about biodiesel from chocolate at their site.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I was thankful for the happy music that made me bounce along in the car on the way to work, for the road that took me there smoothly and the sunrise that lit the way after the lights were snuffed out along the journey. I was grateful for the gym at the end of my ride that allowed me to feel good about eating three courses at dinner last night.

Pacific Bar and Grill is such a friendly local restaurant. We stepped into the warmth from the rain and this pub made shiny was almost full with smiling diners. The two waiters looking after the whole floor were attentive though a little scattered! But I haven't had such friendly service in a long time. The food was fresh, simply prepared with good ingredients, and a delicious combination of flavours that didn't try too hard - it didn't need to. Both the tuna and the salmon we had were cooked perfectly and served with bright green leaves (mine Cos, his rocket) and light dressings. The high point was still to come: The Chocolate Brownie, broken up, warmed and topped with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, it was just divine. Crisp on the edges and chewy and fudge-like when you got towards the middle pieces. A delicious dessert that couldn't seem to decide whether it was cake or cookie or something in between, made in-house apparently. I had to use my fork to fight away the persistent attempts to steal it. At this point the head waiter told us he would bring us something to go with the brownie, and promptly brought us two glasses of frangelico on ice. Now that is the way to bring warmth to the heart of your customers and get them to return.

Monday, November 19, 2007

food-full weekend (chocolates too)

I only started feeling hungry again at noon today. I've been too busy eating this weekend to write in my blog. Which now leaves me with a backlog of things to post about.

On Friday night I went to the BBC Good Food Show. I got there quite late so it was a bit of mad dash around as many stalls as I could get to. So many chocolate stores! Including a new one, Vanini:

New to me, at least. They have apparently been making chocolate for decades in Italy but only just been brought over to the UK. I tried all the ganache bon bons and their dark bar too. Delicious! And no nasties in their ingredients either. I look forward to them coming into the shops. By the time I got back from doing the loop of the other stalls they had closed so I didn't get to buy any this time.

After the food stalls closed we went to explore the drinks vendors and then the dining experience. It wasn't quite the choice, or the quality, of the Taste London festival. Theo Randall did have a soft chocolate cake made with Valrhona. The menu said it was made with Lindt but the host told me that Lindt offered them the chocolate and they accepted and then tasted it and decided to use Valrhona instead. It was delicious. I really don't think it's as obvious what quality the chocolate is in cakes as much as in tarts and mousses though...

On Saturday I was chocolate touring all day then went to a friend's hens' party for dinner and karaoke and finally yesterday went to another friend's house for more eating. I feel like I didn't stop eating all weekend. Here are some of the "raw" chocolate desserts we made:

blueberry and orange mousse cake

chocolate fudge!

chocolate and apple cake

Friday, November 16, 2007

a chocolate brownie gift!

I received a note this week that I had a parcel delivery attempt. I ran to the post office this morning to get it. When I returned home I ripped open the discreet cardboard box to find...

Sent to me by the lovely Jane of Coco a Moi. Seemed like a great way to start a Friday so I ripped open the box and tucked in. They had pecans in them so surely a good way to start the day? They come in brownie bites so it's easy to just have one or two (or three...).

They are completely different to the brownies I sell on my website. Not just because of the nuts. They are slightly more cakey and it's a very different chocolate flavour, a completely different texture. Yummy. Both so yummy. Mmm...

Chocolate taster and packers wanted!!

Is anyone looking for some extra work leading up to Christmas? One of the BEST chocolate makers in London is looking for some help packing the chocolate boxes. You will get to taste lots of great chocolate as well as be in fabulous company while you work.

Help needed ASAP! Please contact me on info[at] if you are interested!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chocolate Ecstasy Tours Facebook group

I finally got around to starting a Facebook group. I thought it would be a fun way to answer people's questions about chocolate or for people who met on previous tours to reunite. At one point I might get my website to have a forum or something on it but for now I'll just use Facebook. If you are on Facebook please join the group! It is Chocolate Ecstasy Tours.

I was on a conference earlier this week and there were chocolate desserts both evenings. I asked, as I almost always do, what type of chocolate they use. I was specific this time and said "what brand". The waitress came back and told me it was their own brand. Ugh. I don't think so! It's a simple question, I don't know why people have so much trouble with it. Even chefs in some restaurants are vague about it. True, the waitress was possibly quite scared of me seeing as I'd sent my meal back both evenings. I don't remember ever in my life having sent a meal back before. The first night it was a vegetarian "curry". A watery yellow soup with overcooked, tasteless peppers and mushrooms. After pushing it a few times with my fork I plucked up the courage to ask for just the mash and roast vegetables without the lamb shank (didn't trust it would have been organic or even nicely reared). The mash and roast veg were really good. The second night my risotto was lovely and I was so pleased they had managed to make a proper vegetarian substitute. They even gave me the vegetable sides from the chicken dish on a smaller plate (someone saw me coming, I guess).

Now, I say the risotto was tasty, but that was until I bit down on a metal bolt. Well, half a metal bolt. Not sure now if the shavings I thought were pepper were actually ground metal. I felt kind of bad for the waitresses who were mortified. Things like this do occasionally happen and I only had mild stomach cramps later in the evening (!!). I just hope the conference organisers got a discount! The complimentary already opened bottles of wine they offered me, when I already wasn't paying for the wine was hardly compensation!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

a weekend in the country

I'm up North this weekend, and reveling in the space of a large house and garden. Something about fresh country air and wide expanses of space that instills new spirit in me. Hopefully it doesn't dissipate on the train journey back to London...

The only downside to being here this weekend is that I'm not in New York at the Chocolate Show. The fact of having a job as well as the tours and booking all my holiday to visit the family later in the year. It's too hard to go to New York for just 48 hours! Being here means I'm not even at the Spirit of Christmas show where lots of lovely chocolatiers are showcasing their wares. My friend called last night to say he had just had a hot chocolate from Bill (McCarrick). Jealous, me? Never. Well, maybe a little. In the New Year I am definitely going to Surrey to visit the Hans Sloane Chocolate studio.

We spent the afternoon yesterday raking up leaves. We didn't bring the appropriate cord with us so I can't upload the before and after photos until we get home. I found, surprisingly, it was fun! Plus, really satisfying. This was the same experience I had a few weeks ago on an outward bounds course where we had to build a barn, and spent the day outdoors climbing and lifting and drilling. Perhaps there is yet more of my father's characteristics in me? I was quite the little tom boy when I was younger and loved climbing trees and building animal sheds and fence. Then I started to realise it was exploiting child labour and did my best to rebel. Suddenly it's become fun again to be outdoors accomplishing something with physical effort.

It certainly hasn't been all hard labour. I picked up the book, The Undercover Economist, from the window sill and managed to get through a few chapters already. Most of it so far is familiar, but a nice refresher on my university subjects. It made me glad I chose the university I did (or that my mother chose it, I might say). Most of the universities offering business studies has a long list of compulsory subjects but the one I went to had only four: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Statistics 1 and Statistics 2. Interestingly, I think perhaps only one of these was on the compulsory list at the other colleges. They have absolutely been the most useful to me in the outside world. Sometimes I wonder what value I got from university, save for a huge amount of experience running committees and things as part of my extra-curricular activities. Then I read a book like this and realise how most of us are so ignorant to market dynamics and why the world works as it does and I'm grateful I had an introduction to it before I joined the real world (ahem!). Though, frankly, even the best economists struggle to exlain the whole picture. Reasonably so. My father always said that the more you know the more you realise you don't know. Is that a way to make the stupid feel smart again? Well, if that's the case, the further I get into this book the more grateful I am for this comment.

I think I'll revert to what I do know: chocolate. (Though even here there is surely much more to know.) Specifically, Sinking Currant Cake. It doesn't have chocolate in its name but it has chocolate in the icing. It started as mocha brownies when my man was small but his mother decided to adapt it for little people's taste and removed the walnuts and replaced them with currants. The currants always sank, hence, Sinking Currant Cake. I'll see if I can get the recipe and put it here or in one of the newsletters (next one coming soon!). It is the only cake he admits to liking, and I just like making cake so better I make one that he will eat too! On second thoughts I might have to make two, to save any arguments!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Chocolate Ecstasy website down temporarily

In case you managed to find this site instead of It is currently down. I'm swapping servers and it keeps disappearing and reappearing. Grrr. This means no emails are getting to me either. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Boycott of chocolate

I came across this interesting article today. The bitter life of chocolate slaves. In it, the spokesperson for the Confectionary Manufacturers' Association says that they can't guarantee their chocolate has not touched the hands of slaves. Granted, not an easy thing to do until you decide it's important, and even then, not necessarily transparent. What actually made me laugh - and despair - was his suggestion that "Boycotts will not help anybody. Hand-outs to people without change will achieve nothing." Excuse me? Of course Boycotts will help! How else can consumers make a real difference to large corporations except by voting with their dollar, or pound, or whatever currency?

You might be wondering why I appear to be suggesting we boycott chocolate. I'm not suggesting we stop eating all chocolate, just that we pay more attention to where our chocolate is coming from. Sadly, a Fair Trade seal neither 100% guarantees the farmer's are getting a fair price (corruption has been found within the channel of money passing to the farmers) and some chocolates have no Fair Trade sticker but are absolutely committed to the livelihood of the people who produce their cacao, otherwise they couldn't get the quality they need to make their fabulous chocolate. Amedei, Malagasy and El Rey are brands like this that come to mind.

I've been reading Ethics of Eating by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. The tag line is "What we eat and why it matters." It's actually all about industrialisation of farming and primarily the horrendousness that goes on behind closed doors to the animals, but it is certainly making me think a lot more about everything to do with what we eat. It's a great book if you want to know about why we should care, along as you can handle some gruesomeness.