Monday, 30 March 2015

What's your excuse?

Not that you need an excuse to read. I wouldn't call them excuses anyway, I'd call them reasons, and, in my book, any reason to read is a good reason. (This from For Reading Addicts:)



I have several reasons (which must explain why I read so much, right?):

Learning. I know it's hard to believe and never really shows, but I do read to learn about things. As it happens, these tend to be somewhat obscure things and topics that have little or no relevance in everyday life. Besides, as nice as it is to learn about (useless) stuff, I'm also very good at forgetting all about it. Even so, I'm curious about a lot of things, and often despair because I can't possibly read about every interesting topic!

Passing time. A long flight. Those endless, agonising minutes as you sit in a dentist's waiting room... how to pass that time? Here's an idea: grab a book! I hate those long flights, but being immersed in an adventure can actually make it... well, not a pleasant experience, but as close as it gets. And even with my dentist phobia, I've managed to sit in the waiting room and be pulled so deep into a story that I forgot where I was!

Entertainment. All right, I'll admit it... this is what I often look for in a book: entertain me!

Experiences. Very much intertwined and sometimes inseparable from the previous point. I want experiences I might never have otherwise. I want adventure! I want to see new places! I want to travel to the past, or to the future! And – although this is something I do get in my normal life anyway – most of all I want to feel things. I want to laugh, cry, fear, cheer... I want emotional involvement (this, more than anything else, is what gives me that “hooked” feeling with a book).

Escape. There. I said it. I've been told that my reading addiction is nothing but a form of escapism. I've been told that there must be something seriously wrong with me, or with my life, if I want to spend so much time in fictional worlds. (Edit: My DH asks it to be noted that these words never came out of his mouth - of course not, he's as voracious a reader as I am.) I have always explained that, first, I'm perfectly happy with my life and myself (neither needs “fixing”, thank you very much) and, second, reading isn't an escape, it's a way to enrich my life. You know, life is good, but life with books is even better! However, there are times when books do indeed provide an escape. They help me forget the everyday hassle. When I'm stressed or depressed they take me away and help me forget my worries. I know they're not a solution. But anything that helps you cope and keeps you sane and stops you from eyeing your sword in the wrong way must be a good thing.

So, for me, it all boils down to greed. We only have one life to live (assumably; let's not start a religious debate) and that puts some serious limitations to how much you can do and experience. Books change everything. And so it all pretty much amounts to this popular quote (image from Little Book Things):


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Review: Marabou Crispi Peanut & Toffee


I can't believe I haven't tried this before! It has peanuts and toffee, after all. Sounds promising!

The wrapping is very colourful, which suits the product – you're not expecting this to contain anything “classy”, after all. Opening the wrapping reveals two bars, which is a good thing: you don't have to eat everything at once and/or you can share the bar with someone. I am a little puzzled by the name, though. Why crispi? Why not crispy?

The scent is very, very peanutty. I don't have anything against that, but here it's a little... stuffy? But not to worry. I've experienced this before, especially with bars that contain plenty of nuts. They can still taste great.

And so it is: there isn't any trace of that dry stuffiness in the taste. The bar is covered in milk chocolate, which – as far as I can tell – is your standard Marabou milk chocolate. Yes, it's very sweet, but I happen to like it. Under the milk chocolate hide sizeable chunks of peanut. They're not too salty, they're nicely crunchy, and there's a generous amount of them. At the core of the bar is the toffee filling. This was slightly disappointing: the toffee flavour just wasn't very strong or perhaps there isn't enough of the stuff. I was maybe expecting something more caramelly. The filling is fairly solid rather than runny – which is good, you don't have to worry about all the filling falling out of the bar and making a mess.

On the whole, I was expecting more intense flavours; now nothing really stands out. Still, it's a good, solid combination and the flavours work well together. The amount of peanuts makes sure there is no sweetness overload. I might well buy this again – it was interesting, and one half of one bar just wasn't enough. ;)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Healthier chocolate treats



Some time ago, I wrote about chocolate making as a boredom buster for chocoholic parents and active children (are there any other kind?). The other day my daughter and I made chocolate treats again, but this time they were of a somewhat healthier variety. I no longer remember where I found the original recipe, but then, I've made some changes in it anyway so it isn't the same (and you can't really call it a recipe any more). For these “healthier truffles” you need

- Dates. I use dried ones that are packed into a  sort of brick shape, but I suppose it doesn't matter which kind you use.
       
- Nuts. Choose your favourite or use a combination. I often use cashews because they're fairly soft. I've also used almonds, but they were hard to reduce into powder.

- Liquid. Choose your favourite. I use rum and water – I know, not a healthy choice, but it is tasty. And there isn't very much of it. I guess plain water would be fine, coffee would be yummy and tea or apple or orange juice would work, too.

- Cocoa powder. I use dark, unsweetened kind. Raw would be ideal, I guess, but I haven't tried it yet.

- Optional: coconut flakes, oats, flax seeds...

Let the dates soak in the liquid until they soften (if you use soft dates, you migh be able to skip this part – I haven't tried though). Smash the nuts into pieces. The finer the powder, the smoother the truffles. I always end up with some bigger pieces in the mix, but that's fine. Use whatever method you prefer or any kitchen gadget you have that is up to the task. I employed a potato masher and a six-year-old with a strong babarian streak:



(Note: if you choose a similar method, put the nuts in a double plastic bag. A single bag is going to split after just a couple of hits from the mallet, there will be nuts all over the place, and a child crawling everywhere and eating them as fast as she can. Which is fine, if you have some extra nuts.)

Drain the dates (don't discard the liquid, you may need it later). Puré the dates and add the nuts. Do some more puréing (is that a word?) if needed. I use roughly the same amount of dates and nuts, but I don't measure them, so I don't know exactly. Add some cocoa powder; how much depends on how chocolatey you want the truffles to be (tasting is encouraged). Here you can also add some coconut flakes, oats, flax seeds, raising, or other additions. I like these simple, so I haven't actually tried any of these but I don't see why they wouldn't work. You might also want to add a bit of that date-soaking liquid if the mixture gets too stiff. But not too much: you want it firm enough to be formed into desired shapes.

So, next, form the mixture into small (or bigger, whatever you like) balls. Or logs, whatever. You can roll them in some more cocoa powder (my preferred method), or powdered sugar, coconut flakes, oats... I keep these in the fridge, just in case - but they don't keep long in my family, everyone likes them so much!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Grief and fictional characters

I thought that some of you might appreciate and perhaps find something familiar about this post from Book Riot: Five Stages of Grief When Bad Things Happen to Belover Characters.

They forgot Stage 6: Making up alternative endings/stories where things happen the way you want them to and everything is all right again. ;)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Five questions (and answers, too)

I received these questions from a dear friend of mine over at the Almond Valley – check out her blog if you want to revel in gorgeous pictures of flowers, landscapes and all things beautiful. That blog is pure eye candy!

So, she's given me five questions and I'm to give five answers to each of these questions. Interesting! Here goes:

1. Where do you see love in the world?

It's
in family and friends
in the beauty of nature
in music that moves me
in words of compassion
in random acts of kindness


2. Your favourite flower – explain why.

Oh, there are so many, I can't pick (hee hee) just one! Good thing I'm allowed to name five. :)

As long as I remember, I've been partial to forget-me-nots. They don't seem to mind so much where they grow, they're small and modest, but that blue...! It's one of my favourite hues. (To illustrate, a picture from puutarha.net.)



Lilacs. Simple reason: the scent. One of my favourite scents (I do have many, true).

Lily of the valley. This is like the two of the above in one: small, fragile, but has an amazing scent.

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis). Small, fragile (anyone see the pattern here?). To me, this is the flower of poetry: to my ear, their Finnish name (vanamo) is phonetically pleasing and they feature in some iconic Finnish poems (image below from peda.net).



And finally, the stereotypical, boring choice... dark red roses. Can't help it. They're gorgeous. They're the classic. They're drama. They're romance. To illustrate: a picture of my rapier and a red rose:




3. Your secret dream/wish?

If I tell you, it won't be a secret, right? ;)

All right. Confession time. I guess this counts as a secret since I never talk about it, except with a few trusted friends (you know who you are, you poor things who have to put up with my blather). I'd love to learn to write well.

Four more... I'm going to be greedy and list the things I want (either more of or to keep what I have): love, health, time, passion.


4. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Some home-made muesli (I make it myself so I know what goes into it – anything you buy from a store contains heaps of refined sugar and other useless stuff... and I like mine with plenty of dates) with skim milk. A big mug of coffee. Black, no sugar, nothing. Just coffee.

Wait. That's only three things. Erm... a glass of water. A small handful of pills: vitamins and my AS meds.


5. A book that gives you strength?

Any book I'm reading at a given moment. That should count for at least five, but as a bonus, I'm going to actually name one:

Manda Scott's Boudica books. Boudica is definitely one of the best characters in the “strong female character” category, and the books are about small tribes standing up against Rome, the superpower of its time. Imagine the courage and resilience and heroism and sheer stubborness that demanded!

I love Boudica (or Breaca), and her brother is one of my all-time favourite characters. All right, one of the major fictional character crushes I've ever suffered (suffered???). To me, his story is about whether we can live with the consequences of our actions and the remorse; whether we can find forgiveness and whether we can forgive ourselves. It's heart-breaking but encouraging.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Review: Lindt Creation Fresh Lemon Milk


It's been a while since I wrestled with some wrappings, so let's take a look at this: Lindt's milk chocolate with lemon filling.

The wrapping with its lively yellow puts me in the mood for spring. How appropriate!

Opening the package reveals large squares of chocolate. And, since this chocolate comes with a filling, the squares are also rather thick. Mmm, nice! The only bad thing is that there aren't very many pieces per tablet because they're so large! ;)

The scent is intriguing: the mellow chocolate aroma and a hint of crispy freshness from the lemon!
Moving on to the taste (because I can't wait!). The milk chocolate is – as far as I can tell – much like the milk chocolate in certain other Lindt products, such as Creation Chocolate Fondant and Crème Brûlée. It's silky and smooth, fairly sweet but something I definitely like. And then there's the filling. It's a sort of lemon cream, with a clear, fresh lemony flavour. The cream is, well, creamy, and the good thing is, it's not runny so you can take your time, savoring the piece of chocolate without any fear of the filling escaping (I hate when that happens! You have to shove the entire piece of chocolate into your mouth in a hurry, and, really, that is not the right way to enjoy chocolate!) And wait, there's more! The best part is the combination of that rich, sweet chocolate and the tart, refreshing lemon. To say that it's a match made in heaven is such a cliché, but I'm seriously tempted to use it here. Yes, all right, I tend to find all sorts of contrasts interesting, and what we have here definitely is a contrast of flavours. But it just works. It works so beautifully!

The wrapping says that this chocolate is particularly tasty when chilled. I must admit that I haven't tried that – I am intrigued but I always forget to place the chocolate in the fridge! Now there are only two pieces left... And anyway, it's delicious as it is! This is one of my new favourites, and I find that it particularly suits these first sunny days of spring. The price range, however, makes it one of those chocolates that are best saved for special occasions. I might buy this for Easter, it would be perfect!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Chocolate shops and cafés in Prague, travel stories part 3

Choco Café


I already told you about the chocolate museum in Prague, but there are a few other places that deserve to be mentioned. The city has many chocolate shops, one more tempting than the other. Unfortunately, we could not possibly visit them all, but we did stop by in a few.

One was a fairly small shop where we bought a nice selection of hand-made pralines. All of these were just heavenly, but my favourite was perhaps the ”Cleopatra”, a milk chocolate with a luscious caramel filling. Unfortunately, I no longer remember the name of the shop!

I have already told you about the amazing chocolate museum, or Chocolate Story, and mentioned the chocolate shop downstrairs. It is a huge shop, which sells not only chocolate but also marzipan, fudge, other goodies and... beer. There's also a café where you can enjoy waffles (with chocolate, naturally), fruit skewers covered in chocolate, chocolate mousses and so on. The only problem was that with such a wide selection, it was very difficult, almost impossible, to choose what to buy! We had limited space in our luggage, after all...




Before our trip, I had discovered that there was a café called Choco Café in Prague. I never make detailed travel plans, but I'll admit that this place was on my ”would be nice to visit” list. And my DH chivalrously located the place on a map and navigated the narrow streets of the old town to get us there (I could get lost in a hot chocolate cup, so wherever we go, I depend entirely on his sense of direction). And it was a lovely place! The interior is cosy, with mismatched tables and chairs (some of them big, plush, inviting armchairs), chandeliers and vintage posters. In addition to cakes, pies, hot chocolate, home-made lemonade etc. you can buy chocolates – there's a selection of pralines and quite a nice collection of chocolate bars. And, to our amazement, there's also a sort of chocolate fountain, or a chocolate tap, from which molten chocolate runs continuously...




I am somewhat ashamed to admit this, but we actually visited this café three times. It was that good! The hot chocolates were so thick you could almost eat them with a spoon (we did). And there was such a selection of delicious looking cakes it made me despair for I wanted to taste them all! Luckily, my family enjoys sharing, so what we'd do is pick two or three cakes, order a slice of each, and share them. The tiramisu was tasty, as was a chocolate nougat cake, but then, I'm also a big fan of cheesecakes and they had several silky smooth, creamy ones topped with berries... If I absolutely had to choose a favourite, I might pick the chocolate cheesecake, but only because, well, chocolate and cheesecake in one!



Now, it sounds like we ate nothing but chocolate and cake during our visit, but that's not true. Among other places, we happened upon one of the best Indian restaurants we've ever visited, a place called Indian Jewel. This is where we had my birthday dinner. As far as culinary experiences go, I'm afraid we pretty much skipped the traditional Czech cuisine – unless you count hot mead. It being February, we found that a cup of hot mead was just the thing when you've spent hours and hours walking around.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

Friends

This from The Reading Room's Facebook page. I have a few friends like this. You know who you are. :)


Monday, 2 March 2015

Chocolate Story – chocolate museum in Prague, travel stories part 2

The gates of heaven

A few days ago I wrote about some book-related experiences in Prague. Now I'll continue with another favourite topic: chocolate!

I must start with the visit to the chocolate museum... yes, that's right, a museum dedicated to chocolate! I'll admit that I didn't know about this museum when we planned our trip or even when we arrived – it was one of those things we discovered unexpectedly. One night, we were walking along the streets of this beautiful city, and I saw a sign that said ”Chocolate Story” … that called for some investigation, and the place turned out to be a chocolate museum! That was, of course, something we had to see.

The museum isn't very big, but the exhibition features many fascinating objects and a great deal of information. You learn about the history of chocolate, health benefits of eating chocolate, how cocoa is grown and harvested, and so on. You can watch a couple of videos about how chocolate is made, and you can even observe a live demonstration of praline making – which includes a tasting of the finished product! We happened to be the only people watching the demonstration, which meant we could observe the process up close. I can only admire the skill of the chocolatier. He made it all look so easy!





When the pralines were finished, we got to sample them. These particular specimen were milk chocolate pralines filled with hazelnut nougat, and I have to say, it was delectable. It was one of the best chocolates I have ever tasted! (We have pictures of me eating the chocolate, but the look on my face is simply too lascivious for those pictures to be shared.) We were also offered an opportunity to try making our own chocolate, but although I was tempted, I refused (I am infamously clumsy and messing around with molten chocolate in the museum kitchen just didn't seem like a wise idea).

In addition, the museum features numerous interesting artefacts, among them chocolate cups and vessels for making hot chocolate, from ancient clay cups of the Aztecs to the later, decorative European versions.



A chocolate cup for a moustached man!


In addition, there are chocolate wrappings and chocolate boxes...


A book-shaped chocolate box!


...and a huge, and I mean huge, chocolate fall (that's like a waterfall but what falls isn't water but molten chocolate).


Why, oh why did they put that glass there?!?



After touring the museum – we stayed well over an hour, it was so fascinating – we visited the museum shop and bought a couple of chocolate bars, which, we assumed, were flavoured to resemble the oldest chocolate (the kind you drink) recipes from the Aztecs and the Spaniards, respectively. There is also another, larger shop on the same premises, but more about that later.




If you're a chocolate lover and are planning to visit Prague, I heartily recommend including a visit to the chocolate museum in your itinerary!

A handy chart for describing the aromas of chocolate