Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Friday 30 November 2012

Mostly making

It's so important to do what you enjoy in life and to enjoy what you do, isn't it?  How lucky am I that I am teaching and enjoying it - and enjoying making chocolates in the evenings when I get home?
It doesn't leave much time for blogging though, which is a shame because I also enjoy that. So many things to enjoy, so little time....

I'm not the most organised of people on the outside. On the inside, of course, I usually know exactly what has to be done, how long it will take, when I intend to do it, where it is...part of an ENFP personality though, is that if something more interesting or exciting comes along, all the best laid internal plans can be dropped without too much concern. Unless that means I can't make my chocolates.

Because I like doing things I enjoy, I have to do some things I don't. No matter how hard I try, I do not enjoy cleaning; dust can gather, clutter clumps together and my eyes glaze over and my brain refuses to fret - I don't use avoidance tactics, I often don't register things that others cannot live with. (It's a gift, I think.)
However, my kitchen must be spotless for me to make my it's getting more attention these days. I see specks of dust and drops of water that could spell disaster to my creations.

Not to show you my immaculate kitchen, but to share with you some of my small scale production processes, I stopped last night a couple of times during my chocolatiering to capture a bit of what it's like to make chocolates on the kitchen table.

Moulds pre-prepared with a coating of 'ruby' chocolate. Palette knife at the ready and a covered pot of cherries in liquer.

Orange centres ready for dipping - at the other side of the table. Two different chocolates from the same 'batch' of tempered dark chocolate.

No one said it wasn't messy. Moulds part-filled, ready for the centre to be added. 

Jackson Pollock eat your heart out! Edible art.

Dipped orange Belgian truffles. Turned out nice.
The two really big ones, second row in on the right ended up as 'testers'

Cherry marbles as Romy named them.

Close up of the effect of the 'ruby' coating. I love this stuff! It is a white chocolate with edible colouring which gives a slightly metallic effect. With the dark chocolate behind it, this makes an overall dark plummy, purply colour which I find stunning. Each one is different and I am always so excited to turn them out and choose my favourite.
Milk chocolate truffles with a Christmassy flavour - orange, spices, cherries, ginger and a splash of cognac.

And here they are with their little cap of saucy topping. Takes an age to do but I think they're rather sweet.
Glamour shot of my chocolate orange truffles.

Now. What shall I make today? Coffee truffles are calling....

Friday 23 November 2012

The things we do...

I came home from teaching yesterday and shared this anecdote with my friends on Facebook. I enjoy telling anecdotes and have a great store of them, many of which see the light of day more than once a year. Sometimes I forget to count how many times a particular anecdote has been taken out and aired in any one year.

I am very fond of my Level 9 class - they are in their final year at the academy and they are quite a chatty group, enjoying whole class discussions on impromptu subjects. Yesterday, we were 'planning a day trip' - I offered to pay - and we were having great fun deciding on which film we'd see in Granada before going for a meal. The only problem was transport. There were 9 of us and I was the only one old enough to drive, but we didn't have a car big enough. This brought us to the bus situation here in Alcala. In August, the buses to and from Granada were reduced in frequency and the latest bus from Granada to Alcala in the evening now leaves at the outrageously early hour of 6pm! FR has been doing a spot of activity, including writing lots of letters, speaking to the press and gathering signatures on a petition, so I took the opportunity to motivate my little band to register their protests too. I suspect they may choose to ask their parents for a lift when they need to go, but it proved an interesting topic for a while.

So the bus was no good. One enthusiast suggested we went on bikes but not everyone fancied the 35km ride. And this brought us onto other forms of transport and my experience of riding a moped. As a student, I mentioned that I lived in Staines which was some distance away from my college in Hampstead. I travelled on my trusty steed, Mortimer - a Yamaha moped, blue in colour and really rather sweet. Top speed was just under 30 miles an hour on the flat. Uphill was a little slower. I used to ride along the A4, which went past Heathrow airport and then joined the North Circular - a busy road even all those years ago! For years, in wind, rain, snow and fog, I pootled safely around the roads of London on Mortimer, although I remember arriving home once on a particularly freezing day, and not being able to straighten up or move my hands, so cold I was. Brrrr...

Our conversation had led me onto Mortimer (though I didn't name him to my class) and our accident. It was a bright, sunny day in April and I was riding along the quiet back streets of Mitcham, where I lived, on the way to Wimbledon, where I worked. Suddenly, a blue Metro pulled out in front of me, leaving me no time to swerve or brake hard enough to avoid a collision. I remember hitting the bonnet of the car and sailing through the air. I landed some distance away on the other side of the road, on my backside, looking up at the front grill of a black taxi cab. There wasn't a scratch on me and the taxi-driver, bless him, came running up to me and the first thing he said was 'Wow, that was fantastic; are you a stunt woman? Have you done that before?'  He was a charming man and stayed with me until the ambulance came.

I was wearing a skirt and boots and hadn't even laddered my tights, but I had a sinking feeling when I remembered that I had my 'spare' knickers on - the ones you really don't want to be wearing if you have an accident. They had a big hole in them and came up to the waist and were an unappealing shade of beige (pronounced on this occasion as 'beidge' please, to get the full effect.) And I started to giggle. And then I caught sight of Mortimer, who at first glance looked fine - but the second glance showed him to be at least a foot shorter from front to back! Poor Mortimer. He never recovered. I giggled more and the people around me told me it was shock.

I had fractured my knee cap on the handlebars on my way 'up' but executed a perfect landing on my way down - apparently turning a full somersault as I flew through the air. Hence the taxi driver's comment. I remember being surprised that it didn't hurt when I hit the car and I had time to say to myself, 'Well, you're not going to die but it will probably hurt when you land'. But I don't actually remember landing. I guess the brain doesn't record everything though for weeks afterwards, I had a full, slow-motion flashback of the accident - from lots of different angles, including watching it happening to me from a viewpoint somewhere above the action. Very strange.

Now, there is no way I would subject my English class to all this detail, but as we talked about the sensation of being on a bike as a lorry whizzes past you, I mentioned my travels in London on a moped. As I began to say I'd had an accident and damaged my knee, a voice piped up - in perfectly inflected English - 'Yeh, yeh, you've told us that one'.  I was momentarily mortified to think I'd already told them but decided instead to be pleased at the excellent intonation and pronunciation. I think this little summary version will become an anecdote in its own right...forgive me if you've heard it before!

Sharing this story on Facebook - in a much simplified version, of course - a friend asked if I had told them about the Cadbury's Creme Egg car. I suspect I haven't.

I'm not sure how, but a friend had an arrangement to drive one of only 5 Cadbury Creme Egg Cars in the weeks around Easter. These are real cars made in the shape of a creme egg - completely bizarre. This particular year, I was a bit down, having split up with my boyfriend of 20 years (he of half a house in France fame). It caused quite a stir when this friend came to my place of work and parked out at the back, where staff on all eight floors of the building could be seen hanging out of the windows - though as it was only 1995, there were no camera phones to capture the scene! He thought it would cheer me up to have a drive out in the car with him on Easter Sunday and suggested we go to Scarborough.

This probably would have attracted enough attention as it was but my sister had the brilliant idea of lending me one of her fantastic handmade fancy dress costumes. If you've made a gorgeous chicken outfit, you want it to be worn more than the once, I guess.

I went wearing a yellow hat which incorporated a large, red, padded beak; a shiny yellow tunic with yellow felt feathers; bright red tights and red shoes with huge padded, three-toed feet attached. I advise against doing anything like this unless you feel very cheerful and happy and don't have the weight of having called the emergency services to deal with your unstable ex the night before...and take a spare pair of shoes, especially if you sister has bigger feet than you. I don't advise you wear this sort of a costume or travel in this sort of a car if you are troubled or weeping - it's not what excited little children expect as they drive past, waving.

It was a bitter-sweet experience all in all and one I think I shall not share with my students. But even I regret the lack of photos for this particular journey!

I forgot to tell you that in Bridlington, where we stopped at a stately home (with the awful name of Sewerby Hall,) there was an exhibition of birds of prey. The attendant there very seriously came over to me and suggested I keep out of sight.
Birds of Prey.
Chicken costume....

Here, the Stig drives a Creme Egg car around a car park. Honestly, we went all the way to Scarborough and back in it!

Saturday 10 November 2012

Taylor Made Chocolates - nearly

Well, I have ordered chocolate. Not my usual big order but big enough. Within the next week or so, I should have just over 12kg Belgian chocolate in milk, dark and white to start making some of my favourite things.

I am getting extraordinarily excited about it.

I shall make some of these using crystallised oranges bought from Rute - a small town in Cordoba famous for  its foodstuffs, and in particular, its use of 'anis' (aniseed). It also makes the liqueur called 'Orujo' and one of the biscuit companies based there is home to the famous Christmas Nativity scene, or 'Belen' that we visited last year. I am thinking of making some orujo truffles - these will not be for the faint-hearted...

I shall also be making some of these: Christmas truffles, caramel snails and lemon and ginger truffles...

 And hope to end up with some of these: more snails (I like my snails), strawberry cream truffles in white and rich rum truffles in dark chocolate.

Rocky Road is a simple recipe using melted chocolate, crushed biscuits, marshmallows, pistachios, cherries, sultanas...and anything else you fancy throwing in. Sprinkle with icing sugar - and try not to eat it all at once!
Or try something really simple like deliciously creamy Belgian milk chocolate studded with hazelnuts.

And for Christmas, I can't resist making these Christmas trees - as lollies or as tree decorations.

And maybe I'll make a few more of these taste-blasters. Chilli and coconut. Not to everyone's taste, I agree, but if they do fancy one, you'll be back for more. They are quite addictive!

Hurry up, delivery van...let me get my hands on all that lovely chocolate!!

Sunday 4 November 2012

Almost France

Once upon a previous existence, pre-children, pre-FR, I was a serious Francophile. Every possible holiday was spent in that beautiful country, eating wonderful food, visiting châteaux, stunning rivers, sleepy villages and speaking rather elegant French.

With friends, I'd visited the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Avignon, Arles, much of Normandy, the Carmargue - the Lot (ha, enjoyed that one!) I knew people - proper French people, I mean - in Nevers, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse and Brittany. In 1991, I got a promotion at work and knew exactly what I wanted to do with the extra money - buy a house in France.

At the end of that year, with my then partner, I bought a little cottage in the Creuse Valley in a small village called Lurais. We bought it from a wonderful French couple  who lived in the next village on, one of the most gloriously beautiful villages in France, called Angles sur l'Anglin. Buying was ridiculously easy - we saw it, fell in love with it, signed for it and it was ours on Friday 13th December 1991. After a superb meal provided by  Mme and M. the Sellers, we very nearly spent our last night on this earth at our cottage, as we lit a fire in the huge fireplace, fell asleep in front of it and nearly asphyxiated ourselves on the smoke that poured forth from the chimney. But we didn't - obviously - awakening in time and opening the door onto the freezing winter night, which soon brought us round.

We spent every holiday there over the next few years. At first, it was difficult as there was no bathroom. I guess it didn't occur to us to go down the bar in the village first thing in the morning - though we went there last thing at night - so we went every day to a rather wonderful Abbey called Fontgombault where there were toilets - henceforth known as going for a 'fontgombault'.

On the way back, we'd stop in the village and buy fresh croissants and make our own coffee on the little stove we'd brought with us.

Our next extended visit was at Easter and we travelled all the way with my sister's toilet and washbasin on the back seat - she was replacing her bathroom suite and we couldn't miss the chance of moving towards a 'fontgombault' in our own home! That meant we had to dig a hole in the garden and put in a septic tank. I will never forget balancing a huge (relatively) tank on top of Pru (my 2CV; yes, I really was a Francophile!) - I couldn't remember the word for 'rope' in French and asked the man for 'string' - his face was a picture.

It was jolly hard work, digging through solid rock, bit at a time with a hammer drill and lots of clearing out of stones and gravel, but eventually, the septic tank was in. We turned a door into a window, fitted pipes and tubes and plumbing things, bought a shower tray and a hot water heater - and before long we had a working bathroom. My parents and their friends came to visit and were absolute stars - sorting out electrics, helping with the digging, preparing food and making it feel as though we were on our way to making a home.

Our neighbour, Jacques, was a lugubrious Frenchman, who'd watch us over the adjoining wall, tutting and shaking his head a lot. He was horrified that we ate our lunch late, in the garden - sometimes as late as 2.30pm! He never ate lunch after 12.00. One day, he came running to tell us something. My parents and their friends (always called Auntie Doreen and Uncle Bob) were in the garden with us. Despite thinking I spoke good French, I couldn't understand him - sounded like 'Beneel est mort' - so we knew that someone was dead but had no idea who it could be. Eventually, after watching Jacques running around and around the garden like a complete idiot, Uncle Bob twigged. Benny Hill!  Benny Hill was dead. It was 20th April 1992. Some things you never forget! Especially as this was the birthday of my lovely French teacher mentioned in a previous post.

In the summer, some other friends came out - one of whom was a talented artist and gardener. He had made us some unique and individual tiles to put at the back of the sink in the kitchen. He also spent the week transforming the garden - filling the place with colour and scents. We painted all the walls of the main room and as we sat down on the last evening of our visit, we thought we were doing pretty well. That is, until we all had a sensation of having wet feet. One of our pipes had sprung a leak - it was under the floor and we had to lift all the tiles, fix it and get them all back again before setting off to catch the ferry home!

We eventually got an upstairs floor in, doubling the space and making it possible for more people to stay. Everyone who came helped us to do a little more work. However, it never got to be completed as the relationship with my partner broke down and came to a sticky end. And just over a year later - oh why not give you that date too - 10th March 1996 - the same day as my friend Karen's birthday -  I met FR and everything changed, including where I ended up living. Not France!

The house in Lurais did provide me with some wonderful memories though - not just of hard work - but of hours spent listening to music, playing board games, reading books, talking and eating some excellent meals. Of picking our grapes last thing before leaving and travelling back to England with various bugs and other insects flying around as they escaped the fruit on the long car journey. Of Fontgombault, Le Blanc, Angles sur l'Anglin and some of the glorious countryside nearby and on the journey to and from the UK; of Jacques, our neighbour, and the inimitable Mme Gautier, who wandered past with her goats and her knitting every day; of spending a brilliant week with Lucinda (my Uni and Kentwell companion) and of lying in the garden listening to the hum of bees and the buzz of insects under glorious blue skies. Of long walks and cycle rides and picnics. Of midnight swims in the River Creuse and watching episodes of 'Tintin' on the little television we bought. Of my gorgeous green-shuttered old windows and the smell of the place.

I loved that little cottage. Precious few photos have survived. Apparently, it is cathartic to cut up photograph albums (and clothes and to smash guitars) when a relationship ends...not for me, though - the loss of my photographs will always rankle.

And half of the place is still mine because although the relationship ended over seventeen years ago, the problem of the shared house in France was never resolved. I offered either to buy my ex out, or to sell him my share. He wouldn't sell but didn't have the money to buy either. He still insists he will buy me out. I'm still waiting. And will continue to wait. After all, it's not everyone who owns half a house in France, is it?

Saturday 3 November 2012

Recurrent dreams

Do you have dreams that occur again and again? I've had one particular one on and off for around thirty five years - if that sounds a long time to you, it sounds almost unbelievable to me. First a little preamble, of course...

I needed glasses almost overnight when I was about 10. One day, I could see the blackboard, the next I could not. I kept quiet about it for quite a long time - I didn't want glasses, so I tried to avoid copying from the board as much as possible, but after one parents' evening, I had to confess that the reason I never could do 'moon times' (working out how long the moon was visible in the sky each night) was because our teacher wrote it in very small writing at the top corner of the board and I simply couldn't see it.

I got some awful glasses soon after that and although I wore them at home to watch the television, I never wore them at school - they were too hideous and I was awfully shy, embarrassed and self-conscious. (Apparently very vain as well!) For two years at Junior High School, I 'managed' to do my work without drawing attention to the fact that I couldn't see properly. Then, before starting High School, I got some new frames - fine, gold, hexagonal frames - and I could bear to be seen in them. As well as to see in them!

I still hated wearing glasses though and felt invisible behind them. As soon as I was allowed and the optician would prescribe them, I got some contact lenses - the hard, rather uncomfortable type - I was just 16 and wore them for my very last 'O' level exam; it was Biology. And from being a shy, awkward teenager with glasses, I became a rather extroverted individual as I started sixth form - new-born, myself, no longer shy, confident....shades of who I am now, rather than what I had been for most of my childhood. This radical change I felt around the age of 16 may have been connected to wearing contact lenses, rather than glasses, or it could be just a complete coincidence, but for me, my contact lenses became a crucial part of living a normal life. I don't feel properly human til I've got them in my eyes each day.

I went through a very brief phase where I felt I ought to wear glasses from time to time - I had heard of people not being able to wear their lenses as they got older. I was concerned by this so thought I should 'prepare'. The day I went out in the car wearing glasses, I drove into the back of someone in a carpark and burst the radiator on my car! It meant something. Glasses are not for me!

My recurrent dream is about my contact lenses. I don't know if it's a typical lens-wearer's dream or just my own paranoia. I dream that one or both of my lenses break into pieces (they are hard lenses still, though gas-permeable now - I can't do with soft ones at all) but I keep on wearing the little bits, trying really hard to see through them. I honestly can't count the number of times I've had this dream but it is regular, recurring and always vivid - and over many, many years.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I contact the optician who last supplied my with my lenses to see if I could have another pair, same prescription, but an extra, spare, just-in-case pair. They said no, my prescription had expired and I couldn't have more without visiting them - in Huddersfield. So I went to get my eyes checked at our hospital here and was told they were absolutely fine, no problems - just go to an optician here if I need any more. I decided I'd continue as I was for the time being. Why worry, all is well.

Last night, at around 9pm, we had a power failure. It was just us, the rest of the street was fine. Our landlord said he'd come in the morning but not before, so we hunted out candles and rather enjoyed the peace and calm that being without the television or computer brought about. It brought back memories of a lovely party we once had in the UK - our last Christmas there, though we didn't know it at the time - when, just ten minutes before our guests were due to arrive, all the lights went out! Again, we found candles, managed to get them lit and the table laid before anyone arrived. And we went on to have a brilliant evening - the children playing games in the darkness, with lots of squeals and screams - so much so that it was quite a disappointment when the lights suddenly came back on after a couple of hours!

Anyhow, last night, we went to bed quite early, groping around to find nightclothes and me, fire-conscious, blowing candles out a little previously, so that bathroom ablutions were done in the dark - including putting my lenses in their case - no problem, been doing it for years! And my dreams during the long, dark night were wild and totally unrelated to putting broken lenses in my eye.

Until the memory suddenly came back to me as I struggled to understand why my left lens wasn't fitting properly this morning - seriously uncomfortable and no light to see what was wrong! I called FR in some distress and he came running with a torch - then inadvisably touched my lower eyelid, where upon I felt a tremendous pain. With the torch and a mirror, I managed to extract my lens.... or just over half of it!

I can only imagine I must have caught the lens badly in its case last night and cracked it. No amount of looking has located the missing bits!

What a shame I have no other, more exciting recurrent dreams that may materialise in the same way.
What are yours?