Floral Creams – to love or hate?

I know a lot of people have either a love or hate relationship with floral flavours – rose, violet, lavender and geranium – ¬†these flavours seem to represent a collective niche of individuals who buy chocolate as they are ‘someone’s particular favourite’ or they bring back a nostalgic childhood memory. ‘Oh, these remind me of spending weekends at my grandparents years ago when I was little’.

I hear this sentiment expressed by a lot by people who are looking to buy chocolate. They are influenced by happy memories and of course chocolate can be the master of creating emotive feeling! Nothing can ensare the senses more. My grandfather would often give me either a pound or a piece of chocolate secretly if I was standing behind him and I used to love the surprise gesture! Nobody else knew he had given me chocolate (I wasn’t allowed any in case it spoiled my dinner) but the day had become a little brighter!

It is funny the things you remember. That is one of clearest and happiest memories of my grandfather and still today….I love violet creams! For some, they are a little too sweet and sugary but for me, the mere smell of them makes me happy. Perhaps we all associate something positive with the food we enjoy eating….a memory of a feeling maybe when we first tried something. Taste and smell can take you back years.

The traditional English Creams are maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but there is something comforting for me about trying one from time to time. It is just a simple fondant centre with essential oil, nothing complex but within that simplicity comes an appreciation of traditional and perhaps more conservative taste. Not a bad thing overall but as always, it is important to try new things.

Preserving tradition without innovation and experimentation only instills a sense of unoriginality and stifles creativity. Both must exist in equilibrium. As much as we love the things we do, we must make room to explore new ideas and tastes. Favourites will always be favourites but until you try something else, nothing else has the potential to be a favourite. What we relate to changes over time. Lets try something new!

What is your favourite chocolate and why and most importantly, what would you love to try?

 

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I’m not perfect (nor do I want to be)

I’m not sure if it is because I am too tired (or getting too old to care anymore) but I feel as though the pressure to be perfect is just a crazy way to feel and live. I am all for high standards – don’t get me wrong – and it is extremely important to give your very best in life. If you stopped trying, things would just fall apart. Caring about what you do is paramount and sometimes, other people’s lives and safety depend upon it.

I just hate that feeling – you know – the feeling that everything you do hinges on being absolutely perfect. No mistakes, no errors, no room for failure. I make mistakes sometimes, even when I try not to. I’m not perfect – there!

Are there people out there who simply don’t mess up? How do they do it? Do they just cover it up superbly when they do make a mistake so nobody notices? (In other words – through ‘bull****’? I’m not saying I make mistakes all the time. Not at all. Sometimes when I do, I feel like it is the end of the world and it isn’t. I say to myself ‘Why did I do that, how stupid! I should know better than this!’ (And I should and do). So, why do I make silly mistakes then? Are mistakes the be all and end all? No, of course not. But – they feel like they are sometimes.

I don’t know about you, but I feel as though the drive for constant perfection in society is maddening. High standards, yes. Perfection – no (and it can sod off). The perfect body, the perfect image, the perfect holiday, the perfect relationship. The perfect amount of money, (Yeah, right).

The problem is when it comes to perfection, enough is never enough especially when it comes to materialism. You always think you can do better and have more, improve this, change that. To me, perfectionism is an illness perpetuated by fear that quietly resides in the psyche waiting to pounce the moment you feel just a little bit insecure or unsure of yourself.

(The fear of not/never being good enough – that is the driving force behind perfectionism – so we keep striving at all costs to prevent a realisation of this truth…that we might not be what other people think.

Who cares?????

I am not perfect and I don’t think anybody should feel guilty for it and feel as though they should apologise for their own perceived ‘failures’ and weaknesses. Realising you have a weakness is actually a strength because (if you feel you need to), you can then become aware of it and can change it.

When painting a picture and your paintbrush slips across the paper, do you score it all out, tear it up and put it in the bin? No. You simply include the ‘mistake’ as part of the creative process. You are the one defining what that mistake is. Perhaps I am also defining my mistakes – I am self-critical to the point where I can sometimes lose perspective of what really matters – the fact that I am human….

I remember years ago when I was applying for jobs after university, going through endless application forms and reading the requirements – ‘must have superb attention to detail, must be proactive, dynamic, a leader, a visionary, presidential material, quite simply – awesome, amazing and magical (of course, not forgetting to demonstrate excellent customer service, blah blah etc. Must, must, must must. Fine – I get it. You want someone who will try hard and do their best.

Reading those kinds of things just makes me not want to bother – why? Perhaps it is some kind of false sincerity on my part – having to care when I didn’t actually care that much. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think I’m alone here – most people want to do their best, earn their money and go home at the end of the day and forget the fact that in their 9-5 jobs, they are actually superhumans in disguise of a person who makes mistakes from time to time.

At least now I have a job I love and really do enjoy – thank goodness. Even when I went for flute lessons as a student, my teacher told me once when I was auditioning for an orchestral vacancy – ‘you cannot make a mistake at all here, there are over 300 candidates going for this seat and there is no room for error.’ Well – I went to the audition, made one tiny mistake and hey presto, that was that. (I tried not to, but I did). So myself, and 298 other candidates bit the dust. That’s the way it goes….

So, I guess the theory is – try not to make a mistake but if you do, just let it go and try not to let it ruin the rest of your life….it doesn’t matter if you screw up. Having high standards is perfect enough. Striving for perfection in my case is very self-limiting and completely soul destroying. I cannot do that but I am sure there are others who can.

Be creative, make music, paint and write, even though people may never appreciate it and be joyful for the sheer sake of it. Life is short and very precious. Don’t make unnecessary sacrifices for nothing. Just be and do.

In life, it only matters if you stop trying. Whatever happens, do it for you.

© Christina McDonald 2014.

Tasting Chocolate….

Which do you prefer, milk or dark chocolate? That is a hard question sometimes and for me it can change daily (sometimes hourly working in a chocolate shop!)

I am learning to appreciate dark chocolate more than ever before. Firstly, I do not seem to crave dark chocolate as much as I would do milk. The sweetness has become too much for me now and when I start eating it, I cannot seem to stop. It is a mistake to for me to buy a bar of milk chocolate – it will be gone in 45 minutes! Some people love a very high percentage and some people prefer something around the 65% mark. I draw the limit at 70%. Anything higher and I feel I am chewing and swallowing quickly to get rid of the intense taste. Anything past 80% is an acquired taste for me.

I remember trying 100% – it was quite an experience! The chocolate equivalent of double espresso. When you surpass the initial ‘shock’ to your palate, you can actually experience quite a wide range colourful taste sensations. Fruity notes, tangy, acidic, bitter, citrus, earthy, smoky, peaty…there are many ways to describe the experience and the beauty is…your experience will be completely unique to you.

How would you describe it?

So – where does the most comfortable percentage of cocoa lie for you? Between 60 and 70% is a good range for me. Flavoured chocolate which is around 65% seems to allow my taste buds to experience varying and more subtle flavours which can sometimes be lost in a higher percentage of cocoa. The natural taste of the bean comes through tremendously so without any other flavours added – sometimes additional flavours (such as rose, violet, cinnamon etc.) can enhance the taste of the chocolate and complement the variety of flavour notes found within the bar.

What we are tasting when we eat chocolate does depend on many factors of influence. The way the bean has been treated has a great impact on how the chocolate will eventually taste. The natural flavour of the bean will also be susceptible to the fermenting, drying and roasting process, the length of conching and of course, how the chocolate is tempered will all have an effect on the taste of the finished product.

Making good chocolate is a highly skilled craft requiring experience and precision. Selecting the beans is just the start of the process of discovering the many different colours and layers of taste. Knowing how to extract the best qualities of the bean through the chocolate making process is the key.

The entire process is dependent on so many variables – for instance, the climate conditions can influence how poor or successful a harvest is. When you actually take a moment to think about where good food comes from, we can truly appreciate the journey it has been on from origin to the finished product. From my brief experience working in the industry, making chocolate is a very creative and innovative journey. There seems to be no limits as to what you can achieve with the right amount of skill and application.

It’s another world. Magical, creative and sensual…what more do we want?

Christina McDonald 2014.