Monthly Archives: November 2008
This week is beating me. Hard. It’s been a real grind so forgive the lack of writing.
To keep the momentum up, I have another GOOD recipe to keep you going until I finish the other fifty zillion that lie waiting in the drafts box. This one is Pea and Pecorino Crostini, made with GOOD oil (I’m on my 30-day challenge, remember!). It’s something a bit different to serve to guests, and it’s GOOD for you. Bon appetit!
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave
Fax: 212-869-4398 Menu link click here.
To visit The Red Flame Coffee Shop in Midtown, Manhattan is to have the quintessential New York diner experience. Monsieur and I have visited this bastion of weekend brunch each time we’ve been in Manhattan and on each occasion we’ve left a little breathless; it’s like dining in a washing machine on a fast spin cycle, only without the dizzy spells.
I would say that you shouldn’t go to The Red Flame if you’re not prepared to wait for a table. Having said that, the wait shouldn’t be too long, such is the speed of table turnaround. This diner is especially packed on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and the all-you-can-drink coffee is practically splashed into your cup (bring a bib!) because the staff are so incredibly busy that pancakes seem to fly out of the pan and across the room – think edible frisbee.
Monsieur likes the Red Flame pancake stacks (not for the carbo-phobe) which are likely to beat you unless you have an insatiable stomach, but they’re still worth trying, especially as they come with bacon AND maple syrup. It’s an unusual combo, at least to me, but the sweet-savoury thing works well. Personally, I prefer the bagels – the classic lox and cream cheese option is simple and not too overwhelming; portion sizes are FLAMING big here.
Gastronomes won’t get much out of The Red Flame other than local atmosphere, so don’t expect truffle oil on your omelette or sculpted vegetables on the side, but the food is hearty and tasty and energising for big days in the Big Apple.
Drinks-wise, the chocolate milkshakes are worth a splurge, but don’t expect the coffee to be anything other than instant and definitely don’t look for smiley, happy service. The wait-staff don’t have time for all that schmalz. In spite of that, it’s definitely worth the time to brunch here, just for the people-watching and buzzy vibe and you certainly can’t complain about slow service.
Lastly, I have to comment on the How To Help A Choking Victim poster in a corner by the door. I know they’re a health & safety requirement in New York, but it isn’t the most appetising of wall art to be faced with whilst eating. It’s also odd how that poster sticks in my mind so that whenever I think of The Red Flame, I remember Choking Victims. You wouldn’t want to play word association games with me, that’s for sure.
Splendid’s been at it again; this time Splendid people Rax, Chris and Jenny invited me along to a dinner party celebrating GOOD Oil. This is a relatively new concept in cooking oils, being made from hemp seed. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the creators of GOOD Oil and the off-shoot products of GOOD Seed and GOOD Dressings are none other than Glynis Murray and Henry Braham, probably better known for their combined film credits, including The Golden Compass (Braham was Director of Photography for this Philip Pullman fantasy), Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned (on which they both worked) and many more.
Needless to say, the crew of foodie bloggers, including myself, Chris from the Londonist, Niamh from Trusted Places and Eat Like a Girl, the enviably slim Lizzie of the aptly-named Hollow Legs blog, Mel of Fake Plastic Noodles and Helen of Food Stories were all intrigued to be invited along to a traditional London dinner party at Murray and Braham’s West London home to see GOOD Oil in action.
Tikichris, Eatlikeagirl, Food Stories and Hollow Legs
Prior to arrival I did my research, courtesy of Splendid’s staff and trusty Google. Hemp seed and the resulting oil is incredibly GOOD for you, apparently, containing half the saturated fats of olive oil (of which I’m already a huge fan), and zero trans fats. I was interested to note that a mere 10 ml of GOOD Oil contains the same GLA (Gamma Linolic Acid) dosage of 6 Evening Primrose Oil capsules, therefore enhancing one’s Omega 6 intake with physical effects such as improved skin, hair and nails, and reduced symptoms of PMT. Omegas 3 and 9 are also present, and the overall health benefits can aid arthritis and eczema sufferers, reduce cholesterol and the oil has even been used positively by the RSPCA in helping rescue animals regain condition. The GOOD Oil profile is also beneficial for the maintenance of a healthy heart.
Chef Ben and Splendid Chris
At the Braham and Murray home I was greeted by their right hand Frenchman, Aymeric, and three lovable dogs. Passing through their warm, red-walled drawing room, I was led down the stairs to a buzzy eat-in kitchen, where Glynis greeted me like an old friend as she tossed salad, and her son, Ben, our chef for the evening, stood guard over the Aga. Once the round of greetings and introductions had been made it felt as if I were visiting pals for a reunion dinner party, as opposed to meeting film world icons and revered foodies. Then when Chris and Niamh arrived, they called out ”hey! third time in a week!”, as was certainly the case as our events calendars are quite full right now.
We all enjoyed some bubbly (as you do) and conversation flowed before sitting down to sample Ben’s examples of how GOOD Oil works in daily cooking. Rax and Henry chatted about New York, Mel talked about how nervous she’d been giving her presentation at the London Bloggers Meetup a couple of nights before and the dogs rolled over for tummy tickles. Then the first GOOD Oil taster was passed around – pea and pecorino crostini. Heaped green upon the crusty bread rounds, the pea and pecorino, blended with GOOD Oil, was simultaneously smooth and chunky (in a guacamole-ish way), not to mention tasty with a certain nutty tang. That was the oil at work. GOOD Oil, which I’ve had a chance to play with myself, has an earthy and nutty flavour; given how good it is for you (see the King’s report on the GOOD Oil website, link below) I was certainly keen to try more.
GOOD Prawn Cakes
At the table, the menu (courtesy of Ben) consisted of a much lauded Venison and Cranberry Casserole, and (as I’m not a big carnivore) specially conceived Prawn Cakes for me and anyone else who cared to try them out. The accompaniments were good, old-fashioned mash, tasting slightly nutty and extra earthy thanks to the oil, and broccoli florets. The conversation was vibrant as we discussed the taste of the oil (different and perceptible without being overpowering), the fantastic atmosphere, Glynis’s and Henry’s film experiences and tried out Splendid Rax’s photographic memory party trick.
Following the main we tried GOOD Oil on salad with cheese and slices of rustic bread, served the French way before pudding, and then ploughed through bowls of ice cream and GOOD Oil biscotti, the ice cream being drizzled with GOOD Oil. I know it sounds strange, but it worked surprisingly well and, if that’s the way you want to get your 10ml of cold and beneficial GOOD Oil per day, then it’s to be recommended.
Bad photo of GOOD ice cream
Henry Braham offered an extra helping of pudding to the person who first guessed when balsamic vinegar was first invented. Different eras of the past four centuries were offered before Henry told us that 1976 was the answer, making me think of tiramisu, which was only invented in the 1960s, in spite of being such a firm fixture on traditional Italian menus that it’s easy to understand why people might think it’s generations older. However, in reference to balsamic vinegar, the date of 1976 didn’t feel right. Otherwise, why would Modena sell bottles of its best balsamic aged fifty years, well predating 1976? I’ll come back to you with the answer for that one in another post… It’s not entirely straightforward, yet it’s a fascinating tale.
Glynis, the girls and a dog
Elizabeth David also came to mind as she’d famously first praised the cooking potential of olive oil in the UK, when it was something you bought from the pharmacist to help with certain ailments but would never have dreamed of cooking with, let alone eating. Lard and butter were the preferred fats of David’s time. Hemp oil has had a similar medicinal history and when attempts were made to launch it as a kitchen ingredient in the past, its strong, untempered taste precluded it from becoming a success. No more. Henry Braham and Glynis Murray have spent more than a decade researching, creating and launching GOOD Oil, based at their Devon hemp farm, and this has included a few wasted visits from the local constabulary who thought they might be growing a different sort of hemp for recreational purposes as opposed to culinary. They’ve worked hard to ensure that the taste is palatable and GOOD for consumers and they’re rightfully proud of introducing something new to the cooking and health-food world. It hasn’t been easy for them; a menagerie of kids, dogs, horses, a donkey, not to mention the demands of ongoing film projects, all combine to mean that one night out from their hectic schedules to educate food writers about their hemp oil passion tells us one thing: they BELIEVE in their product.
Henry and canine companion
GOOD Oil already has fans like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver to back up its credentials. At the weekend I tried a Hugh F-W trick of garlic toast with a drizzle of GOOD. It was delicious and alternative research tells me that an old-world method of ‘cleansing the blood’ suggested this very recipe only using oils other than hemp, or a spread of butter. Back in my own kitchen I’ve also been working on adjusting various recipes to try GOOD Oil in all guises. You see, following the magical, ever-replenishing postprandial port (which could easily have featured in The Golden Compass), Henry and Glynis suggested I replace olive oil in my cooking with GOOD Oil for 30 days, in order to see its physical benefits for myself. Never one to turn down a challenge, I accepted. I’m onto day three now and you’ll just have to watch this space to see how it all turns out; hopefully at the end of the month I’ll be a Glowing Goddess of GOOD. It’ll be interesting to see if the predictions are correct. I don’t know about the Goddess bit but I’d certainly settle for Glowing and I also know someone whose premature arthritis might just benefit from a daily dose of all things GOOD. It’s certainly worth a try.
- To check out the GOOD Oil website for further information, please click here.
- To go to the GOOD Oil Facebook page, where you can download screensavers and recipes and request free samples, please click here.
- The King’s Report
- Glynis Murray and Henry Braham
- Splendid Communications
- Tiki Chris
- Trusted Places
- Eat Like a Girl
- Hollow Legs
- Fake Plastic Noodles
- Food Stories
- Elizabeth David
- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
- Jamie Oliver
If you live outside of the UK and you would like further information on the GOOD hemp seed products, please let me know in the comments box and I will try to find out how you might be able to purchase GOOD Oil from abroad. Can’t promise, but I’ll do what I can.
Epic and GOOD dog
Here’s another Blog08 post, originally written for Londonbloggers.net
Pete Cashmore, the famed creator of Mashable, the social networking news site, was the first speaker at Blog08, telling us how to build a blog empire. He should know, because, as the Blog08 site tells us, Mashable has 5 million monthly pageviews and Cashmore was recently named the 22nd most important Web Celeb by Forbes.com
(Forgive the shot; the light and people’s inconveniently-placed heads conspired against my dream of a Magnum photographic moment at Blog08! )
The twenty three year-old English-born, Scottish-raised internet entrepreneur was at ease on stage as he imparted his wisdom to the crowd. He confided that he’d been unwell as a youngster so hadn’t been able to attend college or university, concentrating on the money-making opportunities that the internet could provide him. At first, Cashmore had wanted to build his own social network, but while he was working out how to do this, he started blogging about the social networks that already existed or were then in development. That’s how Mashable came about and now his site is THE authority on social networking.
In a nutshell, Cashmore says that in order to build a blog empire, you have to eat, live and breathe the business, which is exactly what he’d done himself. In Mashable’s early days, Cashmore existed on four hours’ sleep per night, but the effort paid off, didn’t it?
Here are his main tips for blog success:
- 1. Build something you love. No one fell in love with a market opportunity.
- 2. The passion for what you do will help you work hard with little sleep if necessary.
- 3. Don’t waste too much time making your blog look good. Content is king. If you blog about what you’re passionate about, well enough and for long enough, eventually someone will take notice.
- 4. Just do it.
- 5. Read, write, comment, improve – and repeat. Blog, eat and sleep – for years, if necessary. Seek out interesting blogs related to what you do and subscribe to them. Use Google reader. Do not worry about funding yet.
- 6. Use WordPress as your platform. In Cashmore’s opinion, WordPress is the most extensible platform for a blog.
- 7. ANALYSE. Look at your stats and steer into the areas where you’re successful. Find out what’s working on your blog. Extend it. Serialise it. Give readers what they want. Use analysis sites like Woopra, getclicky.com and Google analytics, which Cashmore thinks is the best. Check out your referrers and stats twice every day. If people are checking out your site via Digg, then target Digg.
- 8. MONETISE. Mashable uses Google Adsense but Cashmore doesn’t think it’s that effective. He says that CPMs are not that great either. Look into niche advertising and find a network selling ads across your niche. Think about direct selling. (Mashable sells ads on its sidebar). Consider creating a marketplace or job boards.
- 9. Cashmore’s favourite networks are:
- TWITTER: This engages your audience, reaches friends, creates ripples so you don’t need a big hit. It’s a good tool for tracking conversations and syndicating headlines and for finding negative feedback about your site quickly so you can act on it before it becomes farther-reaching.
- FLICKR: Isn’t great for traffic-building but is good for creating community.
- FACEBOOK is most effective if you work with groups but loses effectiveness at scale. How many REAL friends do you have on Facebook?
- DIGG: Here you can vote for the best stories. It’s useful for learning how to write a rocking headline. A blogger asks “Is it okay to DIGG yourself?” Cashmore replies: “Yes, but the system is starting to make this harder.”
- STUMBLE UPON: this is a useful tool for watching what’s popular but here it is not so good to vote for your own site.
Cashmore then takes us to the next stage: you’ve built a successful blog and it’s been recognised, monetised etc. YOU’VE GOT COMPANY! His tips about staffing your blog company are simple:
HIRE carefully, frugally and remotely. Personality isn’t that important if you’re working with someone on an internet platform, so if you like what you see of their internet presence and it’s what you need at the time, then that should be sufficient proof that they can help you.
FIRE quickly, decisively and mathematically. Remember that people are assets so they need to make you more money than they’re costing you.
Then, before leaving the stage Cashmore took some audience Q&A, providing us with the following nuggets of information:
- Cashmore IS Pete Cashmore’s real name. Someone thought it might not be, probably because this internet guru has more cash than he can shake a stick at! He said he’d rather have been called ‘Cashman’, however, because it sounds funnier.
- Cashmore as a name has it’s origins in meaning ‘castle man’, which is what castle caretakers were once called.
- He receives about 400 e-mails per day.
- His view is that a blog takes a long time to set up properly, but once that’s been done, it’s stable.
Sadly, by the end of Blog08, Pete Cashmore still hadn’t invited me to a Mashable party, insisting I wear party-on clogs. I suppose there’s still time. As some consolation, however, I did get to sit next to him at dinner and his chocolate lasagne dessert looked amazing. But that’s another story…
Get clicky: http://getclicky.com/
Google analytics: http://www.google.com/analytics/en-GB/
Cashmore reviewed by Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2007/12/18/web-celeb-fame-tech-cx_de_07webceleb_1218top_slide_23.html?thisSpeed=20000
[Warning: you may like to grab a cuppa and take your time with this post. It's a LONG one.]
When Andy Bargery announced the London Bloggers Meetup competition where entrants had to state why they felt they deserved a free ticket to Blog08, the day-long conference for bloggers in Amsterdam, I entered for fun. I never dreamed that playing around with Powerpoint with pictures of strange clogs and a tune called ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ could possibly win; it was surely too weird. Regardless, I put the entry together and dutifully sent it off, only to be shocked to the hilt when the bloggers’ website announced I’d won. I really thought Lolly had it in the bag because her entry was so social networking-tastic.
Of course, plenty of people are capable of winning competitions without promising to do something stupid if they win. Not me. In my entry I promised to wear clogs, All. Day. Long. at Blog08 and I also pledged to set up a blog about clogs. When I won, (and being a woman of my word), that’s exactly what I did. Would I do it again? If it involves wearing big wooden clogs painted with a Fresian cow pattern to an event where I know not a single soul, then probably not. However, Clogblogger, the blog I started as a result of the competition, has actually been a surprising amount of fun, so yes to that one.
Blog08 was the brainchild of two Dutch blog prodigies, Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Edial Dekker. Compared to me, these early twenty-somethings are babes in arms but their c.v.s are impressive. For instance, Ernst-Jan is Editor-in-Chief of The Next Web Blog and also of award-winning blog, Spotlight Effect, whilst somehow finding time to write an e-book about the Dutch blogosphere AND plan this blog conference. Meanwhile, his partner in crime, Edial, is an editor of Spotlight Effect and founder of MaptheGap, a mobile start-up. The three of us had chatted a bit online prior to me reaching Amsterdam, and the lads were encouraging about my wearing of clogs; they’d even put a post about me on the Blog08 site. However, Ernst-Jan’s face when he saw me in the Fresian Wonders is something I will not easily forget. His jaw dropped slightly, eyebrows raised high and the forthcoming high-pitched giggle showed that he hadn’t really believed that I’d wear clogs. “They’re…um…. COOL!” he told me, still laughing a bit, “and you match!” That was certainly true. I was black-and-white colour-coordinated with my clogs. Too cool for school. Or not, as the case may be.
Initially, my fellow bloggers looked me up and down and dismissed me as a viable person to talk to as soon as they spotted the clogs. I started to think I’d made a serious error of judgment in wearing these things. Then no one sat in my row so clog-related paranoia set in. There were plenty of rows to sit in about the hall, yet mine remained ominously empty as the rest filled up with bloggers keen to hear the experts’ views on the blogosphere. When a man did finally sit with me and chat a bit, I was relieved, but he made such a quick getaway at tea time that I couldn’t keep up in my cumbersome Klompen.
Meanwhile, the conference commenced and a tall bald guy in a white suit reminiscent of those worn by the hosts on Fantasy Island, introduced himself as Patrick de Laive, the Blog08 moderator. Then Pete Cashmore taught us his technique for building a blog empire the Mashable way (see my Cashing-in with Cashmore post), and a Dutch chap called Nalden took to the stage to show off what you can do with your blog if you have 150,000 Euros to burn and a talent for merchandising.
At different points there were panels of blogging aficionados inviting active discussion on current affairs of relevance to bloggers, but somehow they always got stuck on one topic so that the tweets from the Blog08 backchannel, being projected onto screens to either side of the stage, would get a bit antsy, referring to stuck records and the like.
The most debated topics were:
- Why aren’t there more women at Blog08? (this was an issue, both on-stage AND in the audience, so a journalist from England was pulled up onto the stage to represent women in one panel.)
- Can you be transparent on the web? (Some say yes; Loren Feldman says an unequivocal NO).
- Is blogging journalism and can journalism use blogging? (Fiery activity on this one; the general consensus was that the two are inter-linked and sometimes inter-changeable but the polar opposite opinions of yes or no could not see eye-to-eye).
- Is blogging dead? Well, obviously not because otherwise what were 250 of us doing at the conference?
- Is micro-blogging the new blogging? Only if you can’t spell or you work in PR, apparently. People either love to tweet or can’t be bothered. The audience was split, even though the Blog08 Twitter backchannel was unavoidably displayed to us with such lively tweet activity that it had to be hidden at times.
After a full-on morning, we bloggers needed sustenance and I have to say that lunch was a bit odd. By this point I’d made friends with some of the more clog-friendly bloggers, so I didn’t eat alone (thank my sainted clogs) and the buffet of filled ciabatta sandwiches was normal enough, but the drinks made me wonder. There were three groups of glasses filled with milk, orange juice or more milk. What? I’d never seen anything like it before, but as my new friend informed me, the Dutch love to drink milk. At least all this milk seemed to complement my cow clog theme. Meanwhile, in the corner of the lunch room, a couple of men watched me with suspicion, as if I might jump up and clogger them with my clogs at any moment. The sense of humour I’d so expected was lacking in such folk and, unfortunately for me, they weren’t alone.
Back in the lecture hall, we heard a range of speakers, their presentations varying greatly in both theme and viewpoint. Boris van der Ham, a member of the Dutch House of Representatives, talked about using his blog to connect with his constituents , something of particular interest given the 2008 US elections witnessing a huge boom in political blogging.
Scott Rafer, the CEO of Lookery, blinded us with science as he told us how his site provides a service to help site owners ‘amplify their audience data’. In explaining the importance of his particular tools, he vented frustration from his dealings with Facebook management, telling us that ‘they don’t care about anyone’. He also recommended considering carefully before signing up to the new Facebook Connect because of data storage concerns which Facebook staff aren’t sufficiently answering. Rafer claims that Facebook is helping Microsoft to gain market share against Google, but that’s hardly surprising in a competitive market. What interested me was that Facebook tracks every search made through its platform, linking those searches with relevant advertisers, which is how we end up getting so much SPAM. According to Rafer this will only intensify under Facebook Connect. Conversely, Rafer’s site, Lookery, was set up according to the strictest privacy laws on the planet, (which just so happen to be German), and they utilise and store their data according to those laws. When Rafer’s presentation ended, the audience sat slightly stunned. The Blog08 moderator thanked Rafer by telling him: “That was a really nerdy presentation!” Nerdy, perhaps, but I’ve already signed up to Lookery to learn more about my audience. So far, so good.
Next on stage was Loren Feldman, controversial vlogger-stroke-puppeteer, telling us how he got to where he is today. In a nutshell, he found himself to be an ageing actor with plenty to say about everything, so chose the blog/ vlog arena in which to say it. Most of the bloggers in the audience had already seen his Blog08 site vlog post appealing for our help as he claimed not to know where Amsterdam was (this was thankfully prior to his arrival). Did Björk come from Amsterdam? he pondered. I’ll have to dedicate a separate post to Feldman because he was one of the most refreshingly direct and unabashedly opinionated presenters at Blog08, making him one of the conference’s highlights.
Then we heard from Dutch internet millionaire and entrepreneur, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-founder of The Next Web Blog and unnervingly wearing the same white suit as Patrick de Laive. It turns out they’re business partners, so this wasn’t a new Dutch trend, as had occurred to me might be the case. White suits on men are unusual enough in summer; in Amsterdam the weather outside was atrocious, so the white suits looked even more odd. To intensify the surrealism of this, Boris demonstrated his unicycle techniques by riding from one end of the stage to the other, and back again. Just when we were pinching ourselves to check we weren’t in some sort of Fantasy Island circus hallucination, Boris started to explain why he thinks that blog prowess is next to godliness. It was a confusion of philosophy and theology, of technology and circus performance leading to the very special conclusion that (to himself, at least) Boris is God. Perhaps that’s why he wears white. This presentation was strange, yes, but forgettable? Not likely.
Moving swiftly on, an obviously jet-lagged Hugh MacLeod, cartoonist extraordinaire of Gaping Void fame, whose post ‘How to be Creative’ has been downloaded a million-plus times and is due to be published as a book next year, entertained us with his amusing doodles and ponderings on life. I’ll write a separate post about MacLeod, as some of his advice is wisdom on a stick.
It was the last presenter who made us all sit up and take notice at the end of this nine-hour blog-fest: Gabe Mac, self-proclaimed Bad Mother Vlogger, took the day’s Rockstar theme to the extreme as he pranced around the stage to a funky remix of a classic Scottish pipes tune. He wore streaks of blusher, serious eye make-up and twanged his Wii Air Guitar madly. He had our full attention. His siren of a sidekick sported bright red stilettos and figure-hugging leggings, dancing about him with a giant video camera, causing the feminists in the audience to tut tut and shake their heads. I think that was the point. Then Gabe Mac toked on a spliff rolled for him on stage by Stiletto Chick, crooning “good stuff, baby”, and any thoughts of audience fatigue left the room. Like him or hate him, we wouldn’t be bored by him.
Gabe Mac told us his vlogging evolution story which suitably began in Amsterdam but is now based in Madrid. We watched some of his own favourite posts and tolerated his thespian arrogance and shameless self-promotion. In summary, I think Gabe Mac was acting his pants off for us, but can’t really be sure, just that off-stage he seemed like a much quieter soul than he was projecting to us in his presentation. You probably need to decide for yourself whether or not he’s worth watching. Check the link at the end of this post to see what this Bad Mother Vlogger is all about.
Throughout the day a band of rock musicians called Love OD rocked us awake, literally, so that we’d soon OD-ed on their brand of ‘love’. However, as the theme for Blog08 was “Rockstars of the Web”, I suppose the first theme accessory must be a rock band, so there they were and, in keeping with said theme, the lone freebie handed out to everyone on arrival had been Blog08-branded guitar picks. Somewhat bemused as to what I’d use it for, mine went in my pocket, but I later saw someone wearing a bracelet made with lots of the picks and it looked fantastic. I’d found out too late that the dress code was ‘Rock star’ so hadn’t had time to change my clogs to something a bit zanier, however, at Heathrow I had bought a few rock guitar-shaped pins in aid of the charity, Ability Net, which uses technology to help people with disabilities, so I was wearing one of these to show willing. It also struck me as a suitable charity for bloggers to support.
In summary, Blog08 was a fascinating exercise in debating what’s hot and what’s not on the web today. Transparent or not, microblogger or not, there were strong opinions and plenty of voices willing to air their views. The presenters were a varied bunch, providing us with valuable insight into the blogosphere of today, and the audience was keen to participate. As this was an inaugural event, it’ll be interesting to see whether Ernst-Jan and Edial plan a Blog09. If they do, I’d be keen to attend, only this time I think I’ll leave the clogs at home.
The Next Web Blog: http://thenextweb.com/
Spotlight Effect: http://www.spotlighteffect.nl/
Loren Feldman http://www.1938media.com/
Ability Net: http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/
Gaping Void: http://www.gapingvoid.com/
Gabe Mac: http://gabemac.com/
Last week the lovely people at Splendid Communications invited me to go gallivanting with Galler at a chocolate tasting at Harrod’s. A group of keen foodie bloggers and Splendid representatives met at the concession for Galler, the luxury Belgian chocolatier founded in 1976 by Jean Galler (above) and the first chocolate company ever to be bestowed with the Belgian Royal Warrant.
Helen Heslop, Concession Manager, swiftly noted my interest in their Advent Calendar, explaining that the treats hidden behind each door were the Galler version of langues de chat, literally cat’s tongue, the classic French biscuit in a tongue shape. These langues de chat are not biscuits, however; they are confectionary shaped as cats poking out their tongues and they come in three types of chocolate – milk, dark or white. The advent calendar I was ogling, adorned in cute cat cartoons by bande dessinées illustrator, Philippe Geluck, contains milk chocolate langues de chat with a very special large praline-filled chocolate to be nibbled on the 24th.
Mouths watering, Rafaella Baruzzo of Galler UK joined Helen to talk about the history of chocolate making before teaching us how to fully appreciate the different flavour notes of chocolate through a blind tasting of their wares. Dark tablets chopped into squares were handed around as we were instructed to savour the aroma and take note of how the chocolate snapped or crunched as we bit into it, pressing the chocolate against the upper palate with our tongues so that it melted, the flavour dispersing through the mouth. To fully taste chocolate, we should use all five senses.
(Rafaella in action)
Each of the group had been given a list of what we should look out for when tasting each piece. How did the chocolate LOOK? Was it dark, matte, glossy? How did the chocolate SMELL? Did it crunch or snap when you bit into it? Was the texture smooth or crunchy? What were the flavours present?
The list of possible flavours reminded me of wine tastings where connoisseurs wax lyrical about apricot and honey notes. Our list was separated into groups featuring many different fruits and woodland tastes, from berries to pineapple and mushrooms to coffee. Then there was the group featuring cardboard and mud. I’m happy to say I didn’t have to refer to that one! It must be for the seriously gifted palates.
For each chocolate, we judged it from 1 to 10 according to different sense categories, plotting the results on a star chart, so that by the time we linked up the points, we’d created a web of our taste pattern. (These are currently being scanned for us so I may be able to post the image later, to help you understand what I’m trying to describe.) When we compared our webs at the end, it proved that every person’s taste is completely individual to them. One person’s sweet is another person’s sour. We were encouraged to always choose whichever chocolate variety is right for our palate.
Having moved our way through a number of tablets of chocolate (not too calorific; only one small piece each!) and having guessed the cacao content of each, we started nibbling on ganaches from the Elementaires range. Each circle of chocolate is emblazoned with a tiny triple stripe and boasts a deliciously melting centre. The first we tried (from the Marines selection) was flavoured with sel de guerande, a type of revered French sea salt, but only lightly so. We weren’t told what the flavour was until after we’d consumed the chocolate, so our tastebuds were going mad trying to guess the secret ingredient. The next in the Elementaires selection was floral. Was it rose? or hibiscus? The flavour was familiar and Chris from Splendid already knew what it was, encouraging me to try harder. When we were told, I kicked myself. It was violet. Of course! It had tasted of grandmothers’ dressing tables, in a very good, nostalgic way.
The last part of the tasting involved long pencils of ganache with little bottles of additional flavour into which you could dip them. Inspired by Japanese calligraphy, this range is called Kaori, from a Japanese word meaning ‘perfume, scent and fragrance’. The pencils came in 6 flavours (saffron, cardamom, yuzu, ginger, vanilla & coconut, strawberry & balsamic) and the dips were threefold (kalamansi, matcha green tea and poppy seeds, orange and cocoa nibs), so that the possible combinations of taste adds up to a staggering 54. I enjoyed saffron with kalamansi and green tea and the ginger with orange and cocoa nibs, but that was just scratching the surface of possibility. Meanwhile, the Food Hall had emptied and we enjoyed the rare experience of being in Harrods when it isn’t heaving with shoppers.
At the end of the evening, Galler gave each of us a little goodie bag with more Elementaires to try at home, and we trotted off in the rain to a nearby Knightsbridge pub to talk about chocolate, blogging, cooking and gaming, and many other seemingly unrelated subjects.
More importantly, if you like the sound of Galler, you can benefit from a 10% discount at their on-line store if you use this code: YQZ-JMW-N7Y. UK delivery takes 2-3 days with international to be confirmed on placement of order. If you want to benefit from this discount, then you have to order from this particular UK Galler site: http://www.gallerchocolates.co.uk/
For super-keen chocaholics I recommend you to visit the Galler UK Facebook page, where you can sign up for free samples, future events and competitions:
For my Belgian readers, here’s the original site.
For the US contingent, here’s your version.
**Also worth noting are Galler’s lactose-free and diabetic-friendly chocolate options.
An Epic trick for getting out of a dark funk on a rainy, grey day when people are losing their jobs and heads all around is to visit a greetings card store where the selection is filled with humourous one-liners. I’ve been known to giggle into a fit of teary laughter doing this before.
WARNING: If you are easily offended I would suggest you DO NOT click on the following link. Seriously.
One of the best UK ranges of greetings cards for this purpose is by kissmekwik. They seem to have taken the photos from 1960s fashion mags or knitting patterns, adding a caustic caption that can be so wrong at times that it would be understandable if you snorted mucous all over the (a) card/s or (b) computer. The more religious among us may feel the need for an emergency confession and a lot of prayer after checking out this range. Anyhoo, if you want to save some cash in these crunchie times, order online. You’ll save at least 50p per card and you’ll be able to stock up your Martha Stewart gift cupboard at the same time.
To give you an example of just how naughty these cards can be, here’s a brief selection:
Just like the woman who turned up at Chelsea & Westminster A&E with a broken nail one busy Saturday night when a doctor friend was interning. Perhaps that was Mary, too?
Yes, well, enough said. At least we can’t see her knickers. Then again, perhaps that’s a clue.
I once stood in line behind a woman at Dean & Delucca in New York and her order was strangely similar to this one.
My boss knows I like to cook; he should do since I’ve become a little more curvaceous than usual since I started working for him 4 years ago. When Boss returned from holiday at the end of the summer, he brought me back a gift for holding the fort: an apron with a design by English illustrator, Simon Drew.
Anyone who knows Drew’s work will smile at the illustration of puns, particularly those related to animals. In Shepherd Spy, the pun relates to a spying sheep dog working amongst his flock, the meaning of which has been punned out of ‘Shepherd’s Pie’. Here’s another one:
Drew’s puzzle or ‘SPOT the…’ cards keep everyone guessing for a while: each line of the cover consists of a combination of pictures. You say the word for each picture aloud until you work out the combination, for instance, in his Spot the City cards, you may have Hell+Sink+Key = Helsinki.
If you like this sort of humour, you can buy greetings cards, books and many other gifts with similar punning illustrations from Simon Drew’s website, here.