Friday, 21 April 2017

Review: Marabou Oreo Filled

  

Now, just in my previous post I wondered whether I should stop writing chocolate reviews, but here I am with yet another one… but my DH brought two bars of Marabou Oreo Filled chocolate from the grocery store just so that I could write a review! After such a thoughtful gesture, who am I to say no? ;)

Now, these bars have the traditional Marabou yellow-and-red look with a picture of Oreo filled chocolate. However, they are considerably heftier than your usual Marabou milk chocolate bar (320g vs 185g), which means they’re big and thick – and I do love a big and thick bar!

Um. Where was I? Right, the chocolate looks like this:


The scent is very sweet. There’s the fairly mild aroma of milk chocolate and maybe a bit of vanilla.

The milk chocolate is the typical Marabou milk chocolate. It’s very sweet and smooth – not my favourite because of the sweetness, but not bad at all. The chocolate encases a white filling, which is also very sweet and has a creamy, almost buttery flavour. It’s a little like the filling in Oreos, but I don’t think it’s exactly the same stuff although I could be wrong. Inside the filling nestles the Oreo part, which is a nice, solid layer of that dark chocolate cookie. It is crispy and crunchy and has the typical Oreo taste. Unlike I expected, it actually balances the flavours of the otherwise very sweet chocolate – and in terms of texture makes this chocolate more interesting.

This is a very sweet bar – not intended for sophisticated nibbling but rather something from which you want to break a piece after piece and just stuff your face with those deliciously thick fragments. I don’t really mind all that sweetness… and, oddly enough, lately I’ve suffered from sudden, inexplicable cravings for Oreos! 😨 So this chocolate definitely worked for me.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Blog Birthday!



It has been three years since I started this blog! It does not feel that long! (Add all the other usual exclamations about how time passes so quickly.)

In three years, I’ve written 191 posts. No, I’ve published 191 posts; there is a number of never published drivels that are better left forgotten.

The most popular posts have been… who would have guessed… chocolate reviews! Very funny, considering this was never meant to be a chocolate review blog, it was a joke from a friend that inspired the very first review! But, apparently, people do read such things – and who can blame them? Chocolate is good. (Chocolate is food of the gods!) The most popular chocolate post is this multi-bar review of Fazer’s Travel chocolates.

The most popular posts that are not about chocolate are a review of Manda Scott’s novel “Hen’s Teeth”, a post about the costumes for the movie “The Girl King” (17th century!), a review of Kelly Gardiner’s “Goddess” (17th century!), my favourite books in 2015, and our visit to the Heavy Metal exhibition hosted by the Häme Castle. It also seems that my travel tales (especially ones about chocolate and cafés) have been popular as well as the little stories about seasonal celebrations (Halloween, Valentine’s Day etc.). Readers are also interested in writing, especially the science fiction anthology “Synthesis” and our werewolf novella “Musta Susi”.

After three years, I can't quite decide what to do about this blog. My DH and I recently signed a publishing contract for our debut novel. What can I say? It’s something I’ve been daydreaming about since I was quite small. I learned to read when I was about four or five years old (I’ve been told; I can’t remember) and since then have loved reading passionately. I wasn’t even at school yet, but I still remember very vividly the first time I realised that people actually have to write all the books (I even remember exactly where I sat… with a book open before me, of course). So... someone gets to write books! I knew that was what I wanted to do, and although that dream was buried many times, for years and years, and very, very deep, and mountains of dirt was packed on top of it with a heavy shovel... I could never quite get over it.

So now that the revision process of our manuscript is in full swing, I wonder if there’ll be much time for blogging – and, considering that the novel will be published in Finnish, perhaps I should also blog in Finnish. Furthermore, should I blog about more important topics? Stop with the chocolate reviews and other frivolous matters already and become a more… um, all right, somehow I have a hard time imagining myself as a serious blogger! 😁

Monday, 3 April 2017

Review: The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements


When I first heard about “The Silvered Heart”, I thought it sounded exactly like my kind of book: set in the 17th century with a highwaywoman as a protagonist – a historical adventure with a bit of romance is just my thing!

The novel is a fictional account of the life of Lady Katherine Ferrers, who lived in Hertfordshire in the 17th century and who is the most popular candidate for the role of the “Wicked Lady”, a mysterious highwaywoman said to have terrorised the area. Unfortunately, little is known about Katherine and even less about the Wicked Lady – did she ever even exist or is her legend mere folklore? Seeing that, Clemens does a wonderful job in combining fact and fiction and weaving together the lives of a high-born lady and a highwaywoman.

Forced into a marriage of convenience, Katherine finds herself neglected by her husband. The civil war has ravaged the country, and she must struggle to make ends meet and manage the impoverished estate. Hunger and misery – and the determination to gain back what she thinks is rightfully hers; the lifestyle of the privileged – drive her to desperate deeds: she turns to highway robbery. This brings her together with Ralph Chaplin, a notorious highwayman. Wielding a pistol and halting carriages in order to deprive their passengers of their valuables, Katherine risks her life… but finds love.

The life of a highwaywoman never features in the story quite as much as I expected. Katherine’s motivation for her actions is nicely fleshed out, yet I could have hoped for a bit more action and adventure. Historical details seem accurate and rich in terms of the everyday life (which is the kind of detail that primarily interests me), but as Katherine mostly stays in one place/area and learns about the affairs of the world - politics, war; the struggle between the King’s men and the parliament - through her husband and his friends, the bigger picture remains a little vague. On the other hand, this aspect is an accurate portrayal of a woman’s role at the time (something Katherine occasionally laments) which was to bear children and run the household.

This may not have been quite the swashbuckling adventure I expected, but there is plenty of drama, intrigue and passion. The characters are well developed, they have their strengths and their weaknesses, they have hidden depths. The language is beautiful and flows well; I especially enjoyed the vivid description of nature and the countryside. Of my “three novels set in the 17th century” this was the one I finished first.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review: A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii


Some time ago, I reviewed “A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion”, an anthology by several historical fiction authors. “A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii” by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter is similar to that: each of the six authors wrote a story, and together these stories form a single narrative.

The authors have each been given/picked characters from whose perspective they tell the story. This actually works very well: each story is long enough to draw you in and make you care about the characters. The setting is the same (obviously), which aids the immersion, and since all authors have previously written stories set in the same era, or close enough, the feel of the period is about as good as it can be. The only drawback is that I got attached to the POV characters in each story and wanted to follow them to the end. Only seeing them appear in – more or less – supporting roles in someone else’s story was, at times, a little disappointing. On the other hand, familiar characters (re)appearing now and again was part of the pleasure of reading this book. It was like seeing old friends!

The story of the final days of Pompeii is told from various perspectives: slaves, senators, soldiers… people from all walks of life. The narrative is centred around an epic disaster, which lends it plenty of tension, yet it is always the human drama and stories of individuals that take the centre stage. What do we do when our life is in danger? What is our duty or our obligation towards others? What matters the most to each of us: our earthly possessions, our own skin or the lives of those we love? How far will we go to save ourselves – or others?

Vicky Alvear Shecter’s “The Son” is a coming-of-age story where a young man learns that being a man has little to do with bedding tavern whores; it is about virtue and duty and integrity.

“The Heiress” by Sophie Perinot is another coming-of-age type story where a wealthy young woman rebels against an arranged marriage to an older, seemingly boring man.

Ben Kane’s “The Soldier” is a gritty story of an ex-legionary, loyalty – and it brings out the gladiators!

In Kate Quinn’s “The Senator” an elderly, embittered senator meets a fiercely independent, chariot-racing woman. She’s a survivor, he’s suicidal – and they’re thrown together into this end-of-days situation. What ensues is some genuine, warm humour, yet this piece isn’t just a comedy but also has a more serious tone, especially towards the end – which makes it all the more poignant, because I grew very fond of this odd pair. While reading each story, I rooted for the main characters of that story to survive, but was even more desperate to see Marcus and Diana make it. The characters seemed just so vivid, and it took me a while to realise that this was probably because they appear in Quinn’s previous novels, which I read quite some time ago! Now I want to go and reread those…

E. Knight’s “The Mother” is a story about family, love and a terrible choice faced by a young mother-to-be.

Stephanie Dray’s “The Whore” is a powerful, heart-breaking story narrated by two sisters, who are very different from one another and thus offer us two contrasting perspectives. I also have to mention “The Whore”, because it’s the last story in the book, and the ending was the one thing that had me worried. I mean, we know what happened in Pompeii. Would I ever really actually want to finish this book? The end can’t possibly be happy. Yes, you can write an unhappy ending. You can even write an unhappy ending that is still a good ending and even a satisfying ending. That takes some skill, though... and Stephanie Dray pulls it off beautifully. There is grief, but there is hope. There is loss, but there is love. It is the end, but it is a new beginning.

I'd recommend “A Day of Fire” to fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in the ancient world. It is also a great opportunity to sample the work of various authors!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Currently reading

I am currently reading three different novels. Their settings:

- France, 17th century
- England, 17th century
- Germany, 17th century

I don't know how that happened. So I'll just add a picture of a 17th century painting by Abraham Bosse ("Five senses: Touch"). This one always makes me smile (talk about awkward family photos!).


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Review: Chocolate Tree Whisky Nibs


I never win anything! I don’t consider myself particularly lucky, nor do I entirely trust all those Facebook giveaways… yet I guess I must be a positive person after all, for I always think it might be worth a try - and now it really was! I entered a giveaway organised by a Finnish company Laatusuklaa (Quality Chocolate) who import and sell some of the finest chocolates available in Finland.

And I won!!! 😊

I won a bar of Chocolate Tree’s dark chocolate with whisky nibs. Actually, the winner could choose between this and a milk chocolate bar, also from Chocolate Tree, but this sounded like an interesting combination… and I don’t even like whisky! I chose it just because it sounded different and I wanted to be adventurous!

The chocolate arrived about a week ago (right on International Women’s Day, as it happened!), and I must say that the people at Laatusuklaa had done a perfect job in packaging it. The bar was wrapped in several layers of protective materials, and the box was filled with foam peanuts to ensure that the bar would not break! Now that’s what I call fabulous service.

The pretty, colourful wrapping informs me that this chocolate has won an award. Interesting! Inside are two bars wrapped in silver foil. The bars are long and narrow, with one side patterned with leaf and floral motives. I really like the look of them! Here, almost too pretty to eat...




The chocolate is dark with a 69 % cocoa content, and the whisky comes in the form of cocoa nibs that have been soaked in Scottish single malt whisky. In case you’re wondering, the whisky content is 6 %.

The scent is lovely. I detect the darker, earthier notes of cocoa and something sweet, fruity or even floral – can that really be the whisky?

The texture is smooth - apart from the cocoa nibs, which are actually softer than in other chocolates I've nibbled before. And the taste? It’s fascinating - on the first taste, I found the same fruitiness that was present in the scent... but on the second, there was a definite smoky flavour! I must admit that I just can’t identify the whisky - apart from that smokiness, which is very pleasant - but then, I’ve only tasted whisky a couple of times. My DH, who has a little more experience, says it’s clearly there. Sometimes chocolates that include alcohol have a boozy aroma that is simply too strong for my taste, but this is not the case here.

At first, I did not quite know what I thought about this, but the more bites I had, the more I liked it! I imagine this could be a lovely, warming treat on cold winter days...

Monday, 27 February 2017

Fazer Visitor Centre – a visit to chocolate company!


As it was my birthday last week, we celebrated on weekend, and on Saturday my DH and daughter took me to Fazer visitor centre. Fazer is the most well-known chocolate manufacturer in Finland, but the company also makes other sweets, cookies, bread, muesli etc. and has bakeries and cafés in various cities and towns. They opened a new visitor centre just last autumn, and since then, I’ve been looking forward to a visit there!

We’d booked a guided tour, which lasted for about an hour. It started in a small tropical garden where we were shown cocoa trees with cocoa fruit and other tropical plants. On a cold winter day, the warm, humid garden was a particularly lovely spot.


The tour itself didn’t focus much on chocolate making or history of chocolate but rather on Fazer as a company; their history, products etc. The exhibition featured, among other things, a giant bunny made of egg shells:

Old confectionary equipment:



And a great number of old wrappings, boxes and other containers for sweets. These were very beautiful and truly charming!






There were interactive parts in the tour; you could, e.g., smell ingredients used in sweets (cocoa mass, cocoa powder, liquorice powder, spices...) and visit Fazer factories wearing VR headsets.


And of course, visitors were invited to sample some of the products: individually wrapped pieces of chocolate as well as chocolate and liquorice bars. A "chocolate tree":



Although it is every chocoholic’s dream to devour unlimited amounts of chocolate, I was careful and only sampled a bit – we were going to an Indian restaurant afterwards, and it would have been a shame to spoil my appetite! Still, I did get a bite of all my favourites as well as a chance to taste something new, such as these Dumle lime chocolates, which are chocolate covered lime flavoured soft, chewy caramels. I was a little suspicious about the lime thing, but these are actually delicious!
 

After the tour, visitors were given goodie bags containing some new or limited edition products... and there is a shop in the premises where we bought a big bag full of treats. For the most part, the selection did not differ from what you find in supermarkets and grocery stores, but there were some novelties we haven’t yet spotted anywhere else, such as these chocolate eggs. They are like our favourite chocolate eggs, Mignons: solid almond nougat eggs in real egg shells (and one of Fazer’s oldest products still in the market). These, however, are slightly larger than the normal Mignons and come in brown egg shells. Aren’t they beautiful? These would make a perfect little Easter/spring time gift!


In addition, there is a café where you can sample some of Fazer’s cafeteria products. The cakes looked utterly delicious! Since we had other plans, we didn’t indulge in these treats – but immediately decided to make another visit one day...