Update: Chocolate Contest

Update to my previous post: sadly, I did not win the recipe competition. However I did place third – of how many, I’m not entirely sure – and will be getting a basket of chocolate in recognition of my efforts. So, not too shabby for a first try.

Now normally I would allow something like this to completely deflate me and never allow me to put myself out like that again. The inside voice, that one that is usually so quick to jump in at these moments with an ‘I told you so’ or a ‘why bother trying when you know you can’t win’, has been strangely quiet this time. Oh, it’s still whispering, but what used to come through as if on loudspeaker has been reduced to little more than a whisper from the corner.

Could it be that the very act of trying something different, of taking a chance, was enough this time to keep that nasty little voice at bay? Is it really that simple, or have I just gotten lucky this time? I suspect it’s more of the latter, although the courage that comes from mere action may have had something to do with it as well. Because this time, rather than give up entirely, it’s made me want to seek out more opportunities to stretch my skills. Preferably not in a video format, but certainly with creating and submitting my own ideas for recipes.

So in that sense, perhaps I did win big after all.

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Of Chocolate and Savvy Food Apps

It’s been a busy week, kicking off with a rather uncharacteristic move for me. I made a recipe video, and actually put it up on YouTube. For real.

You see, I’m not typically one who puts myself out there. I much prefer to hide somewhere in the background making sarcastic comments and rude gestures, but generally preferring not to be a centre of attention. But in order to get anywhere, in terms of career networking and the like, society seems to favour the extrovert-types. That whole ‘squeakiest wheel gets the grease’ kind of mentality. That’s why blogging and Twitter are so appealing to me – they allow me to engage in a certain amount of extrovert-esque behaviour while hiding behind a carefully edited Internet presence. Trouble is, I’m not all that good at the editing part  which means it’s often pretty much what you see is what you get, and I’m even worse when it comes to the ass-kissing, which is the other method that society prefers. And then there’s that horrible habit I have of going off on tangents that bear little to no resemblance to the original topic at hand…

What was I talking about? Oh right, my video.

I didn’t just randomly decide to ‘challenge myself’ by making a video – I had a reason to do it. A contest held by Canadian chocolate company, Purdy’s Chocolates, that I found out about on Twitter is what compelled me; the grand prize up for grabs is a trip for two to The Chocolate Show in New York City. I thought to myself, what do I have to lose exactly? And since I just happened to weasel my way into a very casual position at a local chocolate shop (more on that later – still very new), it seemed rather fitting as a next step. All I needed to do was come up with a concept. That’s where daily baking and Food Gawker-stalking come in really handy – they serve as excellent sources for inspiration. The only thing I really knew for sure is that I wanted to do something using bacon, because I’m a huge fan of the chocolate and bacon combination. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one. I also wanted to do something that represents my love of 50s culture, rock n’ roll and Southern food. So, not too tall of an order, right?

And then it hit me: Elvis bars. Or, so to avoid any messy copyright issues with Graceland, Fit for The King bars. A deliriously delicious combination of those things Elvis held most dear: peanut butter, banana, and bacon. It was a flavour combination first introduced to me by a cupcake called the Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love, which is comprised of a banana cupcake topped with peanut butter buttercream and a slice of bacon. In short, it’s the best little piece of Memphis flavour north of the Mason-Dixon line. But I didn’t want to copy this or even make another cupcake version, I wanted to make it into a candy. A bit more research led me to  look at penuches and pralines, so I figured I would just combine the two concepts into one and make it a praline cut in squares. This reflects my own baking roots that started in my mother’s kitchen with the trusty Women’s Institute cookbook at my side – those ladies do love their bars. I also somehow managed to incorporate my own Anglo-Scottish heritage into the candy’s design: with its peanut butter praline base topped with a mix of chopped up peanut brittle, banana chips and candied bacon it resembles the popular tea-time treat, Millionaire’s Shortbread.

So I entered, and have made it to the finals. Not by sheer talent, mind you, but by virtue of being one of only three who actually entered. But hey – it’s a start, right? And although my recipe will ultimately be made and judged by their head chocolatier and a panel of judges at their offices in Vancouver, they are still offering the public a chance to vote on their favourites via their Facebook page. Which leads me – finally – to the purpose of writing all of this: please…VOTE FOR ME! Basically, I’ve never really been in a position to win anything before – possibly because I don’t tend to even put myself in the running – but  perhaps this could mark a turning point? If people seem to like my video or recipe, perhaps that might be enough to inspire the confidence to do more of both.

The YouTube link for the video is here, where you’ll find the recipe listed in the description. Feel free to share and comment, just please – not on my chins. I’m not sure whether it’s the camera angle, the camera itself, or the cumulative effect of doing nothing but baking up sweets or making chocolates for the past few months, but let’s just say that I’m not a fan of myself on camera. Cast your vote here before 9pm Pacific time on Sunday, October 21st

Oh, and seeing how it’s the weekend and all, you may want to check out my latest post for She’s So Savvy. It’s about the various food iPhone apps I use on an almost daily basis, whenever I’m looking for something to make or go eat somewhere new. You can read it here.

 

Busy Week Ends with Unexpected Kindness

Phew… It’s been one crazy week. I find that short weeks always are. But when you factor in a trip to TO for various errands and a dr’s appointment, furious editing of The Novel, a completely impromptu home reno project (which I detail in this week’s Glamanomics post) along with everything else life throws at you, let’s just say I find it hard to believe that it’s Friday already. The worst part about this week? Not having the time to bake! Plus with the humidity in the air feeling very much like you’ve constantly stepped out of a steaming shower no matter where you are, it would have been impossible to bake and not hurt anyone.

But the best part of the week was this morning waking up to a One Lovely Blog award nomination, courtesy of Daily Frosting. How sweet (no pun intended…ok, maybe just a little) is that? However, this award comes with conditions, as outlined on her post. Those conditions are as follows:

1.   Give credit to the awesome person who nominated you.

2.   Describe 7 things about yourself.

3.   Nominate 15 other bloggers.

So, first things first: a huge Thank You to April from Daily Frosting for the nod in my direction. They say that any attention is good attention, but I think I would rather be known for some of the more positive things I’ve contributed. This blog, although not always cupcakes and ice cream in its subject matter, would be one of those things. And on a week when I’ve been too busy to blog and maybe started to beat myself up over it, this kind of encouragement comes at exactly the right moment!

Now for the harder part. Seven things about myself…hmmm.

1. I named my blog Seven Aprons after the aprons I have managed to accumulate in just a few short months. I received four of them alone this past Christmas, so to encourage me to continue with the baking that was acting as a form of therapy for me at the time (and still does), while another one was a gift from a friend of mine that I originally met on Twitter. I picked up only two on my own.

2. I have a six and a half year old Boston Terrier who is the baby girl I’ll never have. I call sometimes call her Sausage or Piglet, so she probably has no clue what her actual name is anymore. Cute, but not so bright.

3. I’m a recovering Goth, although you wouldn’t know it  given the large amount of pink I’m known to wear.

4. Speaking of pink, it’s my favourite colour.

5. I’m a redhead by choice, not by birth.

6. I find it difficult to accept compliments or talk about myself in the positive, which could explain why I’m struggling now to find a 7th point. Oh, but wait – just had an idea…

7. The reason I started this blog was an effort to try to break those bad habits mentioned in the previous point, as well as document – for better or worse – some of the large amount of baking I do.

Okay, so SO glad that’s over with. Now onto the 15 bloggers I wish to nominate. Hmmm… All right, there are so many wonderful peeps to choose from, I’m just going to try to make this as arbitrary as possible.

It will also be completely their call on accepting or not since this could be misconstrued as an Internet version of the Eighties chain letter, although seeing as this is my first-ever award I prefer to look at it as more of a ‘pay it forward’, good karma sort of thing. Anyhoo – on with the show!

Texana’s Kitchen

My Sweet Addiction

The Stay-at-Home Scientist  

Lucky Lake Cakes

Charming Trinity

Maggie’s OneButt Kitchen 

 Sierra Lee

My Dear Bakes

Pretty Baking

The Sundress Chef

 Nutella Enchanted 

 The Craving Chronicles 

Darla Cooks

Hungry Sofia

The Moonlight Baker 

 

Wow..that’s 15 bloggers exactly! Please excuse me whilst I go pat myself on the back. Happy weekend, everyone!

 

I Know What Victory Tastes Like…

And it tastes like a French Chocolate Macaron. Or twenty, perhaps.

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Finally, after several months of careful research, planning and even a macaron-making class which only resulted in more failed attempts and frustration, I am immensely proud to announce that I have made my first successful batch of macarons. And with the way I’m acting about it, you’d think I’d won an Oscar or something. I plastered pics all over Facebook and Twitter, probably driving everyone I know nuts. I even felt as though I should make a speech to honour such a momentous occasion. And if I were to do that, it would go a little something like this.

Wow, this is so unexpected…I hardly know what to say. First off, I’d like to thank celebrated pastry chef David Leibovitz for providing a perfect, easy to follow recipe after moving to Paris and conducting several experiments of his own then passing the final tested formula on so that the rest of us may benefit from his wisdom. Thanks also to my friend Lisa at Le Dolci for giving me my first crack of proper macaron method through classes taught at her Toronto studio, taught by the fabulous Mardi. And finally, I’d like to thank my family for their tolerance and patience with my near-constant profanity and poor humour as I wasted egg after egg in my quest for that perfect little shell.

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But it wasn’t without some challenges. The first batch I put straight into the oven as the recipe had suggested, but a quarter of them were cracked and looked more popover than macaron. That could have been due to some temperature fluctuation or a hot spot in the oven itself. The second batch however, after having waited for about a half hour before baking, came out with the signature feet and smooth-domed shell that are the hallmarks of the Parisian confection. Just like the ones that have hitherto eluded me, and that food blog writers everywhere seemed to make look so easy. It’s not easy. Not by a long shot.

But if anything can be gleaned from this experience, it’s that hard work and perseverance really do pay off. It may not have escaped your attention that I have not put up anymore Sunday night goals. Is it because I’m abandoning the practice so soon? No, not at all. Instead of just writing about it – since we know how well that worked for me – I decided to take a more active approach. Just do it, then write about it afterward. This macaron post as well as the previous one about coconut cream pie are both prime examples of goals I had very high on my list.

So what’s next on my to-do list? I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out.

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Meringue Swirls Taunt Me No More!

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Finally, I give you my version of the accursed meringues! Now that I’ve finished them, I’m not sure what I was so intimidated by. But of course it’s so much easier to say that in hindsight. So let’s not go down that all-to-familiar road. Instead, let’s just focus on the fact that at last I was able to conquer this particular Martha-induced demon.

Here is a side-by-side comparison shot.

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Keeping in mind that I am by no means a professional, I’d say I did a pretty damn good job. One thing I would do differently is make sure I used more food coloring – and the gel kind instead of the liquid which was all I had on hand. But in any case the first few came out nice and swirly, while the remaining ones were more uniformly yellow. That’s fine with me – in the jar they have this sort of ombré effect which is quite lovely.

I piped as many as would fit in the oven but was still left with a fair amount of meringue. Not wanting to waste either that or the lemon I’d grated half the peel from, I set about making lemon curd for some sort of tart. I didn’t feel like making another shortcrust, though, and that’s when it hit me.

Why not make upside down lemon meringue tarts instead?

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I even crushed up some cookies to sprinkle on top to mimic pie crust. Judging by the reaction they garnered from the resident taste testers, I’d say the experiment was a success.

I must say, spending half the day in the kitchen was actually the most enjoyment I’ve gotten from life in quite a long time. I just need to figure out more ways to keep that feeling going all day long.

Recipes I used are here and here – both from Martha. Of course.

Productive, but Not Entirely Successful

Despite an excellent start early on with ticking one major item – The Book – off my goal list that had been held over from the previous week and getting some exercise in the form of walking as well, the fact remains that I still have no meringues for you.

I’m sorry.

In addition to Saturday’s rhubarb crumble, I did make some dairy-free banana ice cream using coconut milk and a pear-strawberry galette over the weekend, all of which were incredibly delicious. My husband even went so far as to say that it was the best strawberry-rhubarb anything he’s ever tasted, no small praise considering he’s a flavour snob of the highest order and that has been one of his favourites since he was a child. It’s not like I wasn’t busy. But again, they are not meringues.

Maybe it’s my miserable macaron-making experience that’s holding me back. Meringues are far less fickle than the macaron but they still depend on a certain lack of humidity in order to rise successfully. And it has certainly been humid. So it would be fair to reason that on a subconscious level I’m protecting myself from inevitable failure of the meringue by not even trying. But therein lies another problem – there has always been that layer of consciousness. And it’s less protective than it is preventative, in that before I even start a task I will have convinced myself that it will fail, and so I simply don’t bother. And that was the point of this whole exercise to begin with: establish weekly goals with a view to breaking my more unhealthy patterns. It doesn’t mean that I can state a specific goal, such as make those damn meringues, and then when I don’t achieve it I try to supplement it by making anything or everything else. That’s not how this works. So, to put it simply, what I need to do now is just shut up and make the meringues already.

And there you have it: while this weekend was productive in that I made a whole bunch of yummy things, it wasn’t successful because I did not make the one thing I had set out to. But in this case I would say that not being successful isn’t the same as failure, because another outcome has emerged: I’ve identified another important pattern of behaviour that needs to be put to an end.

Who knew that some fluffy bits of egg white and sugar could lead to this level of self-discovery?

PS: I have the eggs on the kitchen counter, just waiting to come to room temperature. And the mixer stands by their side at the ready. Fingers crossed

Progress Report

So, I am happy to report that out of the three goals established last week Sunday, the only one I have left to tackle is those infernal Martha Stewart meringues. If I can find a pic of them I’ll post it, so you can see how clearly non-terrifying they are. Hopefully I will be able to put that one to rest by Saturday.

I have begun work on the other two on my list, but they are definitely a work in progress. Although it would appear that the meringue ranks highest in terms of intimidation because I’m a wuss when it comes to beating egg whites until they form soft peaks that hold their shape, the most emotionally difficult one to get started on was The Book. But, surprisingly, it’s the one goal that has me the most motivated to continue plugging away. The exercise is…far less so. But I have been doing more walking this week, and the other day I managed to raise my heart rate by running up and down one of the small sets of stairs in my house for a few minutes. The dog was looking at me like I’d finally lost it once she’d figured out that it was not a game I was playing for her amusement and it wasn’t going to lead to her ultimate destination of late – outside. But there is more that needs to be done than the increase in walking vs car-driving and the stair cardio. I need to include some light weights in there and start committing to a routine before claiming any real sense of victory. But at least it’s a step in the right direction.

And there are technically two more days left in the week. A lot can happen in two days.

I shall keep you posted.

The Week After Last Week’s Ahead

So remember that post last Sunday when I mentioned that each week I would outline some specific things I’d like to achieve in the week ahead? Well, it’s Monday now which means that this Sunday has come and gone with nary a new list of goals in sight.

Am I abandoning my gameplan already simply because the week didn’t end up going quite the way I’d hoped it would? That would be so very typical of me, which would be the main reason why I will NOT be doing it this time. At least, at the moment, not if I can help it. I’d like to follow through on something, if only for the sake of knowing that I was capable of it. No, this week’s goals will be a continuation of those that were outlined last week. They are as follows:

1. Make those damned darling candy-swirled meringues that taunt you from the cover of last month’s Martha Stewart magazine. To borrow a phrase from the Nike commercials: Just do it.

2. Drag The Novel out for a revisit and possible retooling. See above Nike phrase – same rules apply.

3. Exercise at least three times this week. Maybe make it four, to make up for missing last week. But then again, I don’t want to set myself up for failure since that will ultimately do more harm than good… Andddd this is me shutting up now.

Except, of course, to leave you with that ubiquitous motivational quote that was no doubt dreamed up by some high-powered ad exec on Madison Avenue in the Eighties. But it has served as a powerful enough statement to have worked it’s way into our cultural lexicon, at least when it comes to seeking encouragement to push beyond what we believe to be our limitations. Therefore I obviously have no choice but to finish with it. Feel free to take it up as your own mantle for the week. And instead of talking about it…

Just do it.

Note re: the snide comment I’d made about the Nike slogan coming from Madison Avenue (in New York) According to Wikipedia, Just do it was created by Portland, Oregon-based advertising executive Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy, which continues to be Nike’s agency of record to this day. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Wieden

Mind you, further research has revealed that founding partners Wieden and Kennedy first met in 1982 while working on the Nike account at McCann Erickson, whose North American headquarters just happen to be in New York. So perhaps I wasn’t too far off the mark after all… But again, I digress.

In the Week Ahead

While it’s not terribly healthy for people like me to plan – because we tend to overthink those plans and then stress about them – I think it’s important to have goals.

One of the things I’ve decided to use this blog for is to start to create new habits for myself, and maybe break some old ones in the process. With that in mind, every Sunday I will choose three things I would like to accomplish in the week ahead. By writing these things down, maybe there will be a greater chance of getting them done. It could be a good way to keep me honest. Regardless of whether or not anyone else reads it, at least I will know what’s there.

So here goes – what would I like to get done in week one?

1. Bake those meringue swirls that have been taunting me for weeks.

2. Drag The Novel out for a revisit.

3. Exercise at least three times this week.