Too hot for choc?

Too hot for choc?

Heat is a bit of an issue with chocolate, here are some stories, ideas, and inspiration when it’s a bit too hot for choc:

chocolate heart in melting chocolate puddle

Melting Chocolate

The melting point for fat molecules in chocolate is about 36 degrees, which is very close to our body temperature of 37 degrees, hence the melting in the mouth experience.

There are lots of things you need to know to temper chocolate but allowing it to set at the right temperature is a must too. Ideally, you want to ensure that the room you are in never exceeds 20 degrees.

It’s been a little challenging lately tempering and setting chocolate in this heat. Here are some tips to help when chocolate becomes a bit of a disaster darling!

Spare a thought for the poor contestants in the Bake-Off tent – a hot tent with all those ovens on is just impossible!

What about the Workshops?

I have a lovely summerhouse where I host most of my chocolate workshops. At this time of year, I try and book my events in the morning as the building is much cooler then.

Summerhouse in the sunshine

A trusted portable air con machine is also on hand should the temperature start to get a little too high.

The temperature did defeat us when it reached the mid-to-high-30s and sadly, we had to postpone a couple of events. Even if we had got everything made and set, getting them home would have been a challenge. 

If you are attending any chocolate event, or off to buy some chocolate treats, remember a cool bag to bring them home in to avoid a puddle by the time you get in.

Chocolate in the Fridge

If you are working with chocolate and you want to pop your tempered chocolate in the fridge to help it set then pop it in for just five mins or so and it will not go dull.  

When you package up your creations you can then keep them in the fridge at this time of year (if you have a cool dark space, even better).  

For really posh chocolate, you might want to protect this in a container or ensure it’s well wrapped before popping it in your fridge.

For your everyday chocolate, fridge-cold is just how it’s enjoyed by many of you.

Crowdfunding saves Shop

Did you hear the one about the corner shop where all the chocolate melted?

A local shop in Scunthorpe lost £1,000 worth of chocolate as it melted in the recent heatwave. The shop owners have had such a difficult time in recent months and due to the high level of excess payment required didn’t feel they could claim on their insurance.  

The owners’ daughter appealed to the local community and set up a crowdfunding page, asking for small donations to help save the shop. The owner cried every time someone offered some support and a significant amount has been raised to help replace the chocolate stocks.

Now that’s a story to melt the heart.

I Scream for Ice Cream

We need to finish off with a little cooler, what better way to do this than enjoying our chocolate ice cream style?

whippy ice cream with chocolate flake starting to melt

Fancy making your own? 

This recipe from BBC Good Food has good ratings and they claim is easy to make.

Foodism magazine has done some great research for you – the best supermarket ice creams to buy.  

These range from trusted favourties to vegan, gluten-free, palm-oil-free, organic, and artisan options. The pics are enough to get you drooling.

Does the ice cream van still visit your area? Can you hear their tune calling you?  How about a 99, one way of stopping your flake from melting, stick it in your Mr. Whippy!

Stay cool, it’s never really too hot for choc.

It’s time to simplify

It’s time to simplify

I’ve been making some changes to how I intend to work going forward. This is my chance to say a huge thank you to those that have joined me on various projects and adventures along the way and how/where you can find me going forward!

Here’s why it’s time to simplify

Juggling too many balls means I drop them, or don’t give time and attention to my projects in the way that feels right.

Chocolate is my first love and I want time to focus on this more. Since I have been able to welcome people in person again, bookings have been brilliant.  

As well as this, I’ve been doing lots more schoolwork lately. Careers fairs, enrichment activities, and enterprise days. This is such rewarding work and something I’d like the chance to develop.

My business in a chocolate box opportunity has seen a revival. This is where I train someone to run a version of The Melting Pot (under their own banner). This is a much bigger commitment of my time, involving training and then ongoing support for the first months of trading. 

It’s totally exciting that people are wanting to create their own chocolate workshop businesses where they live!

If I create space and I have a clear focus on what I want the future to hold, it is more likely to be successful than holding on to everything in fear of letting things go.

What I’m saying goodbye to

New Dawn Business Start-up Training

Building Confidence Programme

Creating Magic Challenge

Thank you to everyone who took part in these, it was a privilege to see you start to fly with your new business ventures, boost your confidence to tackle obstacles, and see what magic you wanted to explore.

Facebook pages/groups/membership sites have been closed. If you need any information from me or have a question or query, please get in touch.

Newsletter – see below on where to find out more

Where you can find me

At the chocolate tanksbook a workshop, come along and have some fun on your own or with a group.

On my blog – I have decided not to continue with a newsletter and focus on my blog instead ‘From Chocolate with Love’. We cover all things chocolate of course, as well as business and lifestyle – anything from camping to relationships and more!

Please keep an eye on the website for offers or special events.

Supporting local mental health charity Tilehouse Counselling (for just a few hours each week). The work they do is very close to my heart and so vital in our community. A shameless plug – you can support them each week by buying a community lottery ticket.  50% of each ticket sold is donated to Tilehouse.

The future

To think I actually considered selling the chocolate side of my business a couple of years ago to focus on the other areas I was developing! Now I’m doing the opposite.  

This has come about from listening to myself, really tuning into what I enjoy the most, and going with what flows with ease.

Change is always a little nerve-racking and I sincerely hope that creating space to pursue a simplified and more chocolatey future is the right decision. I’m excited to find out! 

Only time will tell. 

Do please pop back here to find out more!

If you have any stories or tips for simplifying life, please come and share on my Facebook page.

7 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

7 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Or 7 secrets to a happy relationship, married or not.

Dawn and Jo Fry at the church with the vicar on their wedding day


I wasn’t at all bothered about getting married, but my hubby really wanted to, so we did. Surprisingly, it made a difference. Nothing earth-shattering, but a subtle difference, a proper full-on commitment. I loved having a ‘hubby’ – not just the label of course! We celebrated 27 years together this June.


Honestly, Bridget Jones, this is not me trying to be a ‘smug married’!


7 secrets to a happy marriage are meant to be a bit of fun, as well as a nod to some of the serious sauce!

Luck

How do you meet the perfect partner? In our case, we had a dear friend do a bit of matchmaking. We had both been around the block a little, past experience definitely shaped decisions and for us, the timing was right.
Fundamentally there has to be a willingness for a relationship from both partners and a desire to make it work if possible.

Then add in a dollop of luck.

Pick a practical one

My hubby can turn his hand to literally anything practical. I may have had to develop a patient approach to some jobs as they can (and do) take years to complete. Knowing that something can be made, fixed or mended is such a comfort.
If you can’t find a practical one (and it’s not going to be you) then make sure you have contacts and funds to get someone in or it will drive you mad.

Play to your strengths

Divvy up the jobs depending on who is best at them. Hope that it’s a roughly fair split, if not a bit of negotiation may be required, or if possible, buy in some outside help perhaps.

Don’t hate me too much, but my hubby loves housework, especially vacuuming, and keeping the house nice and clean. I hate it, so that’s a huge win/win! Cooking is my thing, so I will usually do all the shopping and meal planning. Some jobs we share.

As a born organiser I run all household management and the admin for our businesses. Even persuaded hubby to take up teaching blacksmithing courses after the success of running chocolate ones! I find this easy, and hubby hates it! Social secretary and especially travel agent are my favourite roles.

You can’t change anyone. Don’t expect your partner to get good at something they don’t like or find difficult to do. The only thing you can change is you.

It’s good to talk

espresso coffee in blue cup with biscuit and sugar cubes

It’s so easy, especially if you have been together for a long time, have very young children, are coping with teenagers, busy jobs, and other commitments, to stop talking properly to each other. There is so often a presumption about what your partner is thinking or feeling, without actually talking to each other properly to find out.

We try and keep a day in the week where we do something together – it’s often just a dog walk, but it may be something more exciting now and again!

Make time to talk – whether that be a date night or something simple like going out for coffee or a walk.

Respect

Without respect surely any relationship is doomed. Mutual respect is a must, and if that is missing or lost – do all you can to try and find it again.

If you are not respecting yourself then start there. Maybe you need a change and it’s time to focus on doing something different, sparking yourself back to life?

Shared Dreams

No two people can be on the same page all the time. Marriage is a compromise, but we can’t only live someone else’s dream. What are yours?

Then you can work on what you both want. What does the future hold (if we are lucky enough to have one)? It can be exciting, having a shared dream focuses your intentions as it’s something to work towards. Nothing is set in stone either, so you have a chance to change/enhance and improve any plans you make.

Book that date night, get talking and discuss your shared visions and dreams for the future.

The Duvet

Get your own. Seriously, we each have our own duvet and it’s perfect. Two single duvets on our double bed. No one loses the covers and gets cold. Choose a different tog that suits (I’m always too hot, hubby too cold).

Finished with my absolute top tip for marital bliss – a good night’s sleep with your own duvet!

Foodies on Tour

Foodies on Tour

The perfect recipe:

Douro by the Douro
  • One special friend
  • Joint obsession with all things food and drink-related
  • Milestone big birthday
  • Mission to have some fun

What better way to celebrate than head off as a couple of Foodies on Tour!

Trust the Process

My friend is a bit of an intrepid traveller and loves nothing more than trekking up mountains in far-flung places. As exciting as that sounds, I’m usually a bit less adventurous. This was her special trip, and I was rather anxious to hear what would make the shortlist.

I decided that whatever she really wanted to do I was going to say yes and embrace it.  

She said because it was us, it had to be about the food, and she decided on Spain and Portugal. My perfect option. Trust that process folks and look what happens.

The Itinerary

Fly to Bilbao – because the Guggenheim was on the bucket list (one-night stay in a hotel)

Head to San Sebastian (two-night stay in a hotel)

Back to Bilbao to catch a flight to Porto (three-night stay in a hostel)

Bus from Porto to Lisbon (three-night stay in an apartment)

Fly home

Bilbao

If you ever find yourself in Bilbao, if only for a quick stopover – factor in a trip to the Guggenheim

Oh, my word what a breath-taking place. 

As this is about the food of our trip – watch this space for more on the Guggenheim soon!

We only had time for one evening meal – so on the recommendation of our hotel owner, we headed to Café Iruna (follow the link to see the amazing décor). As we were a little later, there was not such a huge selection of pinchos (bite-sized tasty morsels served in all the bars) so we ordered off the menu. A fresh tuna salad and some amazing croquettes were very tasty. Not sure what we drank that night, it was white, cold, refreshingly crisp and so reasonably priced.

San Sebastian

What a beauty. Well worth a visit if you have not yet experienced the delights of this wonderful place. With sea, sand, bars, beaches, and such a wonderful selection of places to eat and drink you can’t fail to love it!

We started in a bar called Cote in the Old Town with a fab G & T. There was a decent gin menu on offer and the barman really took care zesting fruit and adding rose petals to give a wonderful fresh taste.

Again, on the recommendation of our hotel/guide books, we headed for pinchos/drinks at various different bars. Quite an experience, very buzzy and busy and a little tricky to eat at times. 

Delicious tasty morsels but sometimes a little too mad for us if we are very honest. We ended the evening at the must-have cheesecake place La Vina – Tarta de queso (Basque burnt cheesecake). It really was an experience not to be missed.

After some sightseeing the next day, we ended up at a wonderful seafood restaurant by the harbour and enjoyed a long lazy seafood lunch with a lovely bottle of vinho verde. That evening was spent at a couple of quieter establishments, with more pinchos and wine. Perfect

Porto

If I could recommend anything, start your trip in Porto with a food tour. We opted for the vintage food tour with Taste Porto, which as well as covering lots of wonderful food and drink, also covered lots of fascinating history too. Our guide Miguel was brilliant and extremely knowledgeable.

A food tour gives you the low down on all the fabulous foodie secrets of the city, usually shared by a local with all that insider knowledge.

We enjoyed meals by the Duoro (with wine to match of course), little hidden bars and small plates, a picnic with food from the market (I ate a fig that will never be forgotten it was that good!), and the best Pastel de Nata EVER. Made on the premises with artisan coffee you must go to Manteigaria – Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata just WOW.

Tinned sardines, fish pate, wonderful soap, and good chocolate also filled our bags to bring away!

Lisbon

Last but certainly not least was Lisbon.  

It was extremely busy while we were there, and you need to do your research on where to eat. There was a constant vying for your custom, and we found this a little tedious at times. We had a couple of slightly disappointing experiences, but this was more than made up for the two best experiences of the whole holiday food-wise!

Dinner at Ofício Lisboa was I think, the best meal of the holiday. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Curried spider crab
Chocolate tart (of course) with a goats cheese/caramel foam!

On our penultimate day, we took the train out to Cascais and had a wonderful walk and lunch by the ocean. 

We started with giant grilled prawns, followed by sardines, and finished with some local almond tart. Highly recommend a trip there, escaping the crowds and enjoying good food with a wonderful backdrop!

Now how to top that? 

I’m already planning what might be on my big birthday foodie trip!

To trust or not to trust?

To trust or not to trust?

You’ve started your business and you are so excited and want to share your wonderful concept with the world.

two rocks posing as people holding hands

Immediately the fears creep in.  What if someone else thinks it’s a good idea and tries to steal it.

When is it right to trust or not to trust that instinct?

The wrong tone

That spirit of fear, or distrust, is now contaminating your copy.

You temper your tone and are careful who you mention, keeping the attention firmly on yourself and not crediting anyone else.

Perhaps you are a bit cagey about exactly what’s on offer – you don’t wish to give too many secrets away. 

The right energy

There is an art to gaining attention and drip-feeding content for momentum and a big reveal.  Done with fear your energy will be off.

Trust in yourself and your product or service and be open to sharing.

Ask yourself, what is that fear really about?

It is doubt about whether you are good enough? Do you have a fear about someone else being better than you?  Are you feeling the dreaded imposter syndrome?

Recognise this for what it really is.  Take some time before you write, post, call and share your news to get in the right positive energy.

Get over yourself

Usually your business concept will be done by someone already – there is very rarely a completely unique idea. 

Do some market research.  Who is the competition and what are they offering?  Don’t go down that rabbit hole of not being as good as them.  Remember, you are the unique element of what you offer as nobody can do you. Get over yourself and own that talent that got you here in the first place!

Competition can be a good thing.  Coffee anyone?  How many artisan coffee shops are in your local town?  Which ones do you visit?  The one or two that resonate with you, that have the friendly barista or your favourite cake?  So everyone comes to your town for great coffee – not everyone chooses the same coffee shop. People will choose you, the others are not the enemy.

What are you missing?

Could you collaborate with another outfit that is similar to yours?  Do you offer an element that they don’t and visa versa, meaning you can offer a bigger or better package to your clients?

What about the possibility of sending work to each other when you are too busy?  Have a grown-up conversation at the outset about the arrangement and keep a note of what happens.  If you are willing and open to try it may work out really well for both parties.  If not, you can politely withdraw from the arrangement at any time.

Act with fear and shut others out and you may damage your reputation in the community.

You can get burnt

There is always a risk in working with others – but that attitude of mistrusting everyone will not serve you well in business.

Work out the upside and the potential downside.   

Go back to your strategy.  Can this relationship/arrangement help you achieve your goals?

Obviously we have all had a bad experience, one that we wish we had not allowed to happen, but you will learn so much more from the odd mistake.

With experience you become more confident about your decision-making process and know when it’s right to trust or not to trust that opportunity or person. 

Are you ready to start your own business (with or without chocolate) and feel that fear but do it anyway – trust yourself and put your faith and trust in the good ones out there. Good luck.

It’s all about you

It’s all about you

The airplane analogy is often used. We need to put on our oxygen mask first, ahead of our loved ones, to be able to help them.

Air hostess in a cabin wearing a mask

So how well do you look after you?

If you push on regardless it can become too much, you may find yourself unable to carry on in the same way.  

I thought it timely that we take a moment to focus on ourselves. Yes, this is all about YOU, because you matter and when was the last time you focused on what you need?

Where are you now?

If you are reading this quickly before dashing off to do something else which needs to be ticked off the list. Stop, really take a moment. Sit quietly, slow the breathing down, turn off distractions (if possible) and tune into yourself. This requires a little bit of your precious time, some concentration, and honesty.

How are you feeling? 

That’s a bit of a big question, so let’s break it down into three areas:

  • Stress/busyness/commitments
  • Worry/anxiety
  • Feeling low/depressed

Stress/busyness/commitments

I need a bit of busy in my life – I find I thrive on it (mostly) and it makes me feel alive. Some stress I find necessary to keep me focused and motivated. In those moments I’m saying yes to everything, I can take on the world. Suddenly something changes and a bit of stress tips into stressed out, over-committed, and overwhelmed.  

On the flip side, if I find myself with not enough to do, that’s demotivating. The less I do the less I want to do until it drives me a bit bonkers, and I take action.

Be honest and work out where you are taking on too much and where you might want to put more energy instead.  

Worry/Anxiety

This is a biggie. With recent and current life events, our world seems more worrying and anxiety-inducing than ever.

What’s normal for you?

Can you manage the level of worry and anxiety that you are experiencing, or it is stopping you from leading your ‘normal’ life?

As we get older, we can find ourselves concerned over details we would never have given a second thought to in the past. Perhaps there is an element of extra worrying we are willing to accept. If this tips into catastrophising about what might happen and affecting our mental health, then it may be time to seek help.

I suffered from anxiety in the past, which was becoming a problem and difficult to cope with. My GP offered some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which I found very helpful.  

Two strategies that I took from the process were:

Set aside worry time each day 

Acknowledge each worry or fear as it occurs. Park that thought but give it proper worry time at the allotted time each day. (Don’t do worry time just before bedtime.) This seems unlikely to work, but I found it helpful as instead of being overwhelmed with worrying thoughts and not dealing with them, I knew I would spend time each day thinking about those things that concerned me most.

Worry Tree

What are you really worried about? If you can identify each worry and write it down then think about all the things that could happen, drilling down into the worst thing you can imagine. It may be that there is nothing you can do to stop the worst thing from happening but acknowledging this can be helpful.

You may find that your worry, when drilled into, is not as bad as you originally thought it was.

Feeling Low/Depressed

We all feel low and a little depressed at times.

If it feels like it is ongoing and not improving, it’s important to talk to someone and/or seek help.

I’ve often found that those low moments are the true turning points of life.   

Happy Place

If I were to describe an amazing happy place it would be wild swimming in the most beautiful location, looking up at a vast blue sky, the mountainous landscape surrounding me, the gentle sound of the water as I floated along, opening my arms wide to the world and being so thankful to be present in that very moment.

What’s your happy place? Please pop over to my Facebook page and share.

Treat time

Now you have thought about good things, what small treats can you build into everyday life to fill up your tank?

  • Quiet time/reading
  • Breathing/meditation
  • Exercise/sporting activity
  • Spending quality time with friends/family
  • Diet/water consumption
  • Sleep
  • Laughing at comedy or the TV
  • Dancing/listening to music

Here’s a list of ideas – 100 Ways to Unwind if you need some inspiration.

It’s all about knowing ourselves, acknowledging where we are and putting on that oxygen mask to give us energy and ensure we are the best for those that are dear to us. We owe it to ourselves too.

Let’s give ourselves permission – make it all about you for a change!

The Easter Bunny recommends…

The Easter Bunny recommends…

Whether it’s the best eggs to buy, running the best egg hunt, enjoying a special lunch, or munching on a delicious hot cross bun with a cuppa, read on for some Easter inspiration.

Easter Bunny sitting on a tablecloth with spring flowers

The Easter Bunny recommends….

The Best Easter Eggs

Good Housekeeping has done all the Easter Egg research for you this year.

Chocolate Easter egg sitting on a bed of smarties

Chocolatiers and supermarkets submitted their recommendations to the Good Housekeeping Institute. They actually tested 135 eggs (are you now thinking you need a new job?). Hot Cross Bun Egg anyone?

These are the categories they cover:

  • Milk chocolate Easter eggs
  • White and blonde chocolate Easter eggs
  • Dark chocolate Easter eggs
  • Kids Easter eggs
  • Vegan Easter eggs

The Best Easter Egg Hunt

Colourful eggs and a basket on the grass

If you want to try some alternative ideas for your hunt this year, Country Living Magazine has come up with 27 creative hunt ideas for indoors and out and including online options.

The Best Hot Cross Buns

I love a hot cross bun. 

I’ve tried making them, they are a lot of work and mine were a bit of a disaster. Hot Cross Rocks would have been the better description! There are so many varieties to choose from these days.

Here’s a list of good supermarket buys from Olive magazine. Alternative options include dark chocolate and ginger and a white chocolate and lemon version mmm.

The Best Easter Lunch

The BBC Good Food team has come up with the ultimate Easter lunch menu. It does sound rather tasty:

  • Pea, mint & spring onion soup with parmesan biscuits to start
  • Roast lamb studded with rosemary & garlic (they also give plenty of veggie alternatives), served with dauphinoise potatoes, spring vegetables, and lemon & thyme baby carrots
  • Chocolate egg baked tart

I’m very pleased to see they ended the meal with chocolate. If you want more chocolate pud inspiration, try these.

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I do hope you are able to enjoy some downtime with family and friends and of course add lots of chocolate into the mix too.

Happy Easter

What’s your why?

What’s your why?

When did you last take a moment and think deeply about what motivates you, what’s most important to you, and what makes you tick?

It does not have to be profound and/or huge (although I’m sure we could all agree on world peace and an end to suffering). The smallest things can be so important. Whatever is real and meaningful for you matters most.

If you want to start your own business, then it’s imperative to work out the reasons behind your decision for doing so. Without being tuned into your ‘why’ you will lack focus, drive, and ambition to realise your dreams. So, what’s your why?

Where do you start?

Break down your life into general segments and review each to see where you are on a scale of 1 to 10. 

1 being it’s not working well at all to 10 being just perfect for you. Think about where you are now and be honest. This will help you score more accurately.  

  1. Work
  2. Home
  3. Health/Fitness
  4. Family/Friends
  5. Money

What’s your dream?

Do the exercise again, this time daring to describe each category as a true dream scenario for you. 

What would absolutely fantastic look like for you?  

I would like to pass on the wise words of a well-read coach I worked with (Paul Webb), which is ‘suspend disbelief’. If we use our logical brain, we will be telling ourselves all the things we can’t achieve, if you are able for the moment to suspend disbelief then surely anything is possible!

Focusing on the work element – what would having your own business mean for you? Really spend some time imagining working in a way that you want to, doing what you love and earning some money too.

It will not just be about the money. There will be so much more to it than that. The freedom, the chance to be creative, to be able to spend more quality time with family or friends, to pursue passions whether within or outside of work.

Mind the Gap

What life elements are furthest away from where you want to be?  

Where in your life need some focus and attention?  

Can you start to take some small steps to achieve more balance? You may not be able to tackle everything at once, but acknowledging where you are and taking small steps to improve or change a given situation (or even to acknowledge that there is nothing you can do right now to change it) will help.

What did you notice?

So which bits about your life filled you with the most joy?  

What did you find easiest to think about, dream about?  

What fired up your passions? 

Or maybe, what came so easily that you hardly realised it happening – because that bit is where your personal magic lies! The stuff that comes to you with ease, that doesn’t ever feel difficult, that gives you pleasure, where time literally flies – that is where you need to send some focus.

Watch this Space

Keep a diary, make a note, reflect and record. Now you are tuned in to what is happening, try and find out the bit that makes you sing more than anything else.   

Add in the elements of trying to find more balance in your whole life and it’s from there that you can start to identify your why.

It’s not just about you

I was training someone recently to start their own chocolate workshop business where they live. They asked me what’s the point of what I do. 

I thought it was a good question, without hesitation I showed this photo:

Two ladies smiling and laughing with chocolate smeared on their faces.  Having fun on a chocolate workshop experience.

This picture sums up exactly what I want for my customers.  

It really matters to me that everyone has a good time. I spend time creating the best possible customer experiences with chocolate that I am capable of delivering. The fact that people are spending their hard-earned cash with me is something I would never take for granted.

Although I need to own the responsibility for my business and what I offer, it’s not just about what I want. What do my customers want or need and how can I deliver that for them. How can I meet and hopefully exceed expectations?

What’s next?

Good luck with discovering your why. Will you dare to take the next steps and put a plan into action?

You will start to experience some fear, that’s normal, when faced with change we are bound to experience fear, but it will hopefully also be mixed with excitement! Now it’s time to take some action.

Your why, the thing that makes you tick, may just be something that helps, inspires, motivates or brings some joy to another.

Be a Better Speaker

Be a Better Speaker

Are you one of those that hear the word speaker and run for the hills?  

If you can overcome that fear and use speaking in your business, it will do wonders for your confidence, offer opportunities for growth, and mark you out as the expert in the room.

Your comfort zone will kill you…….so here’s how to be a better speaker:

Get out of your own way

Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Do they want to watch you on stage dying of embarrassment and being too nervous to deliver your message? Imagine what that experience would be like for them. They will feel uncomfortable on your behalf, and your message might be lost.

That may sound rather harsh, but if you are able to get out of your own way and think about the experience of the audience listening to your message, it really does help overcome some nerves.  

Think about your speech in terms of the need to share your message. Why not give the audience the best chance to hear what you have to say and benefit from what you have to offer?

Fake it ‘til you make it – act more confident than you actually feel, and you may just find yourself feeling far more confident in the process.

Study the experts

Pick someone you admire who speaks from the stage and watch them intently. What is it about their delivery that really speaks to you? How does their delivery method work and resonate with the audience? Can you notice any tricks they employ to keep engagement and interest?

Ted Talks are a great place to study the greats – Brene Brown is a personal favourite of mine. Don’t despair or think you can never achieve such levels as those on Ted, use it as a learning opportunity and something to aspire to.

There are plenty of courses on offer too should you wish to invest in training.

Tell your story

Stories really sell, people are interested in other people, what bought you here, what do you have to share about your journey to get there.  

You may think it’s insignificant and other people might not be interested, but it makes it real and human and will definitely resonate with someone (if not many) in the room.

Weave stories into your business, anecdotes, something funny, real-life examples of how your product or services has impacted your clients.  

This will make you and your business far more memorable in the minds of the audience.

Be authentic

Don’t read from autocue or cards, this is not a corporate presentation where you have to stay on message. That’s totally boring and never interesting for the audience.  

This is you, your business, your way with your personality and that is what makes the experience unique.

Yes, you have to bring more energy and life than a conversation around the water cooler, but you are still you. 

Try and be as natural as possible. 

Fake a little confidence (to yourself) until you start to feel that confidence grow.

Once this happens, you will notice how you are able to play with the room a little. Suddenly you are able to access that wealth of information you hold in your head, even banter with the room as you are able to ditch some of the nerves and start to enjoy the experience (I promise).

Have some tricks up your sleeve

Bad luck, they gave you the graveyard slot (after lunch) and everyone has had a slump in energy. You feel you are losing the room.

Keep your own energy up. 

Have you seen Tony Robbins? He bounces around on a mini trampoline before hitting the stage.

What can you do to change the energy? A show of hands, standing up, changing places, high-fiving your neighbour? Judge the room, it can easily be over-done and become a bit too cheesy (I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a very American-style vibe, which was just too much).

Here’s something to help if it feels like it’s all going wrong.

Know your stuff

Once you have decided what you are going to say, practice, practice, practice.  

If you are comfortable and confident with the content, it will help your delivery.  

People are giving up their valuable time to come and listen, you owe it to them to give it the best shot you have.  

If you have not taken the time to study, practice, understand your audience it will show.

Your position

By standing at the front of the room, or on the stage, you are seen as the go-to expert.  

That’s a powerful position for you and your business and is a great opportunity to gain credibility, increase awareness and if relevant, make some sales.

Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale

If there is an opportunity to sell from the stage, take it.  

Keep the energy and language in the same tone, stay upbeat. Don’t suddenly start to falter or stutter because you are about to ask for money.  

Get really comfortable with your sales pitch and really make it sing.  

You may lose some of the room if they are not in the mood to buy, but don’t be afraid to mention what you have to sell confidently, if appropriate for the speaking gig.

Enjoy it

I was petrified of speaking. 

My only previous experience was from the corporate world, I disliked it and considered myself rubbish at it.  

Once I started my own business, I decided that I was going to tell myself a different story about speaking. I wasn’t following someone else’s script anymore, and I decided to bring my personality to the stage and get better at it.  

Now I speak lots, in fact, speaking is an integral part of my business. I still get nervous for some speaking events but know those nerves are good. Nerves help keep you on your toes and focused as to what you want to deliver.

I absolutely love it; the buzz, the energy, the ability to influence, help, guide and support a group of people through speaking is just great.  

Say YES

Start with small events and gatherings and work your way up to larger audiences.  

Say yes to speaking opportunities when you don’t feel ready or comfortable and challenge yourself to get better at it. Decide you can and will do it, and see what you can achieve through observation, practice, and experience.

I’ve had people fall asleep while I’ve been presenting (very off-putting – but it was in a care home and after supper) and made people laugh or cry as I’ve touched a nerve and resonated with them.  

It’s an honour to have the opportunity to speak to an audience and will reap benefits for you personally and for your business. Good luck.

What I learnt from it all going wrong

What I learnt from it all going wrong

Let’s assume that you have done everything in your power to plan and prepare for your forthcoming event. 

Without this element, you can absolutely expect it to all go wrong!  

The situations described below have genuinely happened. Sometimes you really have to step up, out of your comfort zone, and deliver something more than you intended.

Here’s what I learnt from it all going wrong…..

The right people

The organiser has had a meltdown and is so overwhelmed that are unable to carry out their duties. There is no point pointing the blame and expecting a different outcome. Something has happened to bring them to that point. They may be out of their depth and have had to step in and take on a role they are not fully equipped for. Life may have happened outside of work and caused too much stress. Whatever the reason, the person you need to help you get started is out of action (hopefully temporarily). It’s time to step up and find a solution if possible.

Find someone different to help. There are usually the people in the background that make everything happen without most realising how much hard work has gone on behind the scenes. 

Think maintenance people, IT gurus, caretakers, etc. Put in a polite plea and explain what has happened, without being rude about their colleague and see what can be done.  

Your materials

Instructions were received about sending in power points ahead of a presentation. On arrival, slides were nowhere to be found.

Although you may have been told what will be present on arrival, assume the worst and have copies or back-ups of presentations or materials that are required on the day.

Plan B

If a particular problem cannot be solved in time for what you need to do, then you will need to find an alternative way to deliver your content.  

What outcomes are you hoping to achieve?

What are the most important elements and try and focus on these if not all are possible on the day?

You

Believe in what you are delivering and stick to your principles. If you start to doubt yourself or don’t deliver your event with conviction, whatever is going on around you, your audience will start to doubt it too.

Yes, you will be swan-like, frantically paddling away underneath the surface while trying to appear calm on top, but you do need to always be professional. Even if those around you are not.

Keep calm and keep smiling if possible. If you panic too much you will not think clearly. It may not be your fault, but you can only do everything in your power to make it as good as you possibly can.

Treats

chocolate lollipop with sprinkles

Ahead of an event, I will usually make prizes or thank-you gifts to hand out.  

I always keep a few extra chocolate treats on me and hand these out to all those that have helped me solve any problems as a thank you for their time and effort. Acknowledging that others are going out of their way to make your visit work will pay dividends on the day and nice gestures are remembered if you are called back to visit again.

Escalate the issue

It may not be fixable. 

Your event may start to unravel to a point of no return due to problems encountered.  

Here I would seek out management and explain what is going on and agree on a joint solution.

Might it be better to reschedule and visit another day?

Do the organisation wish you to deliver whatever is possible, knowing it will not be quite what was agreed upon. Actively trying to resolve something rather than going into melt-down mode will at least be constructive and hopefully gain you credibility with the organisation you are dealing with.

Timing

Allow plenty of time for everything. Factor in extra time so if something does go wrong, you will have time to try and fix it.

Keep perspective, hopefully, nothing is life-threatening, only frustrating or potentially embarrassing. 

Audience

If you experience a disengaged or challenging audience, it can be a tough gig to bring them around. Study a speaking guru and practice, practice, practice.

Keep up the energy and try hard to get your message across. Use engagement techniques, like asking questions, raising arms for a quick survey. Try and change the energy in the room and get buy-in if possible.

Don’t keep shouting above the noise, if necessary, stand still and silent and wait for calm. Usually, other members of staff will help if things get too disruptive – you can ask for their help if necessary.

Believe in your audience and make sure they know it. Prove you really mean it.  

Here are some tips for running successful school events.

Review

What went on? What can you do to make sure you improve and hone what you have control over?

Make a note of everything that went wrong as some things will be out of your control. If you intend to visit the venue again, have your notes to hand so that you can cover potential issues for next time.  

Feedback

Do give constructive feedback to the organisers. They did not wish you to visit and experience problems. If there are issues to fix, don’t moan or be too negative but do ensure you point out where outcomes may have been adversely affected.

In your feedback ensure you celebrate any achievements made, despite the circumstances.

It’s stressful and hard work and has a knock-on effect on you personally when something you have put a lot of energy and effort into goes wrong or is particularly difficult. Do your best and hold your head high. It’s a learning experience if nothing else. If you run your own business, it’s in your power to choose not to return if you wish!

Love Affair with a Lentil

Love Affair with a Lentil

One of our clan became veggie a while ago and we played along. We cheated quite a bit, using veggie substitutes like bean burgers and veggie sausages a bit too much I feel.

Then lockdown happened. 

A family of five (all grown up and with huge appetites) needed feeding on a drastically reduced budget. Both hubby and I were unable to operate our blacksmithing and chocolate workshops for the foreseeable, and changes to the food shopping were required. 

We decided to eat mostly vegetarian from that moment on.

So started my love affair with a lentil.

Large lentil cottage pie in ceramic oval dish
Lentil Cottage Pie

Proper Veggie

It was time to embrace veggie eating properly. No more substitutes but good proper cooking from scratch.

I learned to think differently about cooking vegetarian food. With meat or fish, you have a star of the show with veggies as the side act. 

Cooking veggie meant that dishes needed to work together, there might be two or three dishes making up the ‘main’ element, working in harmony to create a feast.

Veggie food usually takes longer or a bit more effort to prepare. In my experience, there is more work in creating a tasty dish and making the veggies sing.

One of my veggie foodie heroes is Ottolenghi. Stock the spice cupboard with different ingredients and leave some time for cooking up a feast. You will never be disappointed but be prepared for smoky kitchens and prepping for a couple of days in advance!

Ottolenghi is very generous in sharing his recipes, check out social media, or find him writing for The Guardian.

Batch Cooking

Life is set to get considerably more expensive in the coming months. Eating well doesn’t have to be super expensive, but it will take up a bit of your time. Cooking is my therapy, so I really enjoy a bit of batch cooking and the sense of achievement when all the meals are prepped for a later date.

Lentil and spinach bake in large and small greeen ceramic oval dishes

That’s why I like to cook up a huge batch of green lentils. I boil them in vegetable stock to add a bit more flavour.

In a separate pan, I sauté onions, garlic, carrots, and celery then split this into two. With half the lentils I recently made a cottage pie mix, adding bay leaves, fennel, cumin, tinned toms, and a spoon of magical yeast extract. 

Marmite is so good for adding colour and great flavour to your veggie dishes.

The other half got the spice treatment. Adding chipotle chillies, lots of smoked paprika, passata, and a tin of red kidney beans.

The results: a family-sized cottage pie, two individual cottage pies to pass on to an elderly relative, and a vat of chilli. This was made from about half a pack of green lentils with just a bit of time and effort thrown in.

Once you have your base, you can make spag bol, lasagne, curries – all those family favourites for a fraction of the cost of meat or veggie substitutes. It tastes great and they are good for you.

Posh Lentils

You can go all Puy and go a bit posh with your lentils. I love these in a salad. I usually just have something crunchy like an iceberg, Puy lentils, and some goat’s cheese with a lovely lemony dressing. Great to go a bit posh if you have having people for dinner.

Texture

Split lentils are great for dhals or thickening soups or purees. They will go soft on cooking. If you want more texture, then stick to whole lentils. There is no need to soak lentils you can rinse and cook straight away. They will happily sit in your store cupboard for ages, with a long shelf life until you are ready to release them into something tasty.

Dhal is another family favourite – you can take your base and add lots of other lovely spicey veggies to make it a meal in its own right. Or add in some coconut milk for a lovely creamy twist.

Here’s a dhal recipe from a member of the BBC Good Food community.

Lentil Inspiration

Olive magazine shares their best lentil recipes here, including vegetable slice and an aubergine dhansak as well as some using Puy lentils too.

Jamie Oliver has some lovely lentil inspiration, whether as an accompaniment or a delicious meal in their own right. He shares some great salad ideas too.

How about this one from Delicious magazine, a halloumi-topped lentil stew – yes please!

And if you think I’ve forgotten about chocolate, then fear not. Add some cacao nibs or dark chocolate into your lentil chilli, delicious!

Are you going to start a love affair with a lentil?  

Why I started my business

Why I started my business

 I usually tell everyone about my love of chocolate and people, I just put the two together and created The Melting Pot.

Of course, my reasons for starting run far deeper than that.  

Dawn Fry

Here’s why I really started my business:

I took a job to fit around the needs of the family and it was driving me mad. It was something beneath my skill set for the part-time element and often left me unfulfilled and bored. Trying hard to turn it into something else wasn’t working, which just added to my frustration.

Life’s too short

My Dad became ill with serious cancer, followed by my husband in the same year. The next months were a blur of sitting by hospital beds and supporting them both. It was a tough time, with both seriously ill at the same time and three young children to support too. Driving around the M25 day after day, spending hours at a bedside, sitting watching loved ones suffer, and getting home and trying to be something for the kids. It took its toll.

Eventually, I went back to work but being in that environment was the final straw for me. How could I continue to work in something that didn’t serve me when life was so short and precarious?  

The only way is up

After a gruelling time and against the odds, we received good news, both my dad and hubby survived and are still well to this day, touch wood.

However, I now found myself teary and upset a lot of the time. The past had taken its toll. Not only did I not want to be in my job, but I was also not coping that well at all. It was hard to believe that everyone was going to be OK, even though the news was good, and I certainly didn’t feel OK myself.

One day there was a passing comment made in the office. It typified everything about what was not going to happen for me in my current role. 

I found myself in the toilet crying and knew something had to change.

The lightbulb moment

It was getting to that really low point, that kicked in some form of survival instinct and finally got me to tune into my need to reinvent myself. Time to start my own business, be my own boss, set my own agenda…..but what could I do?

I did literally have a lightbulb moment – I knew my business had to be with people and some sort of food and one day I just went, “chocolate, that’s it”. Running chocolate workshops felt right; I had created my new business idea, now to make it happen.

Redundancy Cheer

Redundancy is no joke; I’m not trying to make light of how awful it feels for some to know that they are going to lose their job and security. For me, it was a cheery and fearful moment. I was called into the office to be told that my job was being made redundant (it was the height of a recession in 2009). My response was ‘hurrah’ as it meant I could focus on my dream. I’d not been there long enough to qualify for redundancy pay, but it did give me the opportunity to start creating a chocolate workshop business as there was no job to full back on. This was the catalyst I really needed to make it a reality.

I left the job in June 2009 and launched The Melting Pot in September 2009.  

Why stop at workshops

After many years since I took the plunge, I still offer chocolate workshops and now so much more….

Hot Chocolate Team Day

So many courses and bespoke events have been created for clients – I say yes, then work out how I’m going to make it work.  

My hubby was inspired too, and for some years has been offering ‘be a blacksmith for a day’ experiences from his forge. We’ve even collaborated and created ‘hot chocolate’ team days.

I’ve documented everything I did to create a ‘business in a chocolate box’ and sell this to others wishing to run chocolate workshops where they live.  

New Dawn start-up business training came out of mentoring and supporting those starting a chocolate workshop business. Not everyone wants to work with chocolate – can you believe that?

Lack of confidence seemed to stop the people I met from starting something, they didn’t believe they could do it. If I could surely others could too? A free creating magic challenge and building confidence course were born.

Who knows what might be next…..

What I’d like to pass on

  1. Don’t stay working in something that makes you unhappy. You can and deserve to be happier at work. If you find yourself having a cry in the toilet, please make a change.
  2. Be brave – stretching your comfort zone will feel uncomfortable at first but the rewards are enormous.
  3. Choose love – firstly learn to love yourself properly, this is so important if you want to support all those that are so important to you too. There is nothing like working for yourself to really explore you and your capabilities.

There it is, why I started my own business. I love being my own boss, flexible, challenging, interesting and you will be so surprised at what you will learn about yourself.

Why All Relationships Matter

Why All Relationships Matter

We are talking business relationships here, but it’s personal too.

The most obvious relationships are those we have with our customers. The customer is king in every business. However, there are so many more to consider for a successful business to survive and indeed thrive, including the one you have with yourself.

Let’s explore why all relationships matter:

What relationships?

Meeting at a desk, with notebooks, drinks and laptops (you can't see their faces, just there arms writing in their books)

Sometimes we focus so much on the obvious (our customers) we overlook other opportunities.

Who do you have relationships with?

Customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, competitors, family, friends – are all key relationships within your business.

Another thing to consider is your potential relationship with someone where you are simply making an enquiry.

Maybe you are looking at a business opportunity?

How you behave will reflect on how you are perceived by the vendor.

Do you ask, realise it’s not for you (right now) and then ignore all the follow-ups? What if you later change your mind. If you didn’t go back to them explaining not right now, have you burnt your bridges for a potential transaction in different circumstances?

Send a simple reply explaining it’s not for you and why, and come across as professional and considered.

Supplying the Goods

Think about the importance of getting your supplies for example.  

Cacao beans

You are spending money with your suppliers and may think that you need do no more than hand over your hard-earned cash. What about a shortage in supplies (something that we are often facing in these difficult times).  Your supplier may have to choose which customer to send limited supplies to.  

What if you need a rush job and will need a supplier to go the extra mile for you?

Might your supplier recommend your services/goods to another customer if you are great to do business with?

A good relationship can reap unexpected benefits.

Money Matters

How do you pay for your supplies?  

Pink piggy bank

Cash flow can be an issue at times, so you may leave certain suppliers waiting for payment.  

Is this something you accept personally?  

Are you willing and able to wait for payment from a service or goods you have delivered?

What are your terms, and do you act with the same integrity with everyone else you do business with?

If you do hit on difficult times and you need to speak to your suppliers about extending credit for a limited time, your payment history will come into play. Have you built credibility with your supplier to afford you some leeway when it might be most be needed?

The Competition

Hide your head in the sand, feel threatened and defensive, or completely oblivious – what is your attitude to the competition?

Competition can be a good thing. If more people are offering what you do, there must be a demand for it. Always check out the competition and keep an eye on what they are doing. Is there an opportunity to work together, to collaborate?  

No one can do things the way that you do them. You are what makes your business unique.  

Make friends with the competition where appropriate and explore ways of potentially working together. 

The team

If you employ people or use contractors, then they are representing you and your business.

Do they clearly understand and operate by your values? Have you adequately trained and equipped them to achieve their tasks properly?

If there is one big lesson I’ve taken from running my own business, it’s all my fault. If an employee/contractor makes a mistake, then the buck will stop with me. Choose good people (we need to part ways with those that are not the right fit) and train them well.

Build good strong relationships with all members of your team and it will reap rewards.

Customers are King

Without customers, we don’t have a business.  

Building strong relationships with your customers and providing the best possible service matters. I like to create sticky customers (ones I cover in chocolate, but also stick around for more). Working with chocolate is a good hook for building rapport, but you don’t need to work with it to use it to your advantage! Here are 100 ways to make your customers go WOW.  

You

Nothing will test you like running your own business. It is the best personal development programme you will ever encounter. You will experience highs and lows, but the benefits of being your own boss far outweigh the difficult bits!  

Be YOU. People buy authentic, tell your story, be yourself. 

If you do not it will be exhausting and not something that you can sustain long term.

Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them. Respect yourself and others will follow suit. Treat everyone in the way you expect to be treated yourself.

The relationship with yourself will be tested and you need to know who you are and what you stand for.

All relationships matter.

If Chocolate be the Food of Love

If Chocolate be the Food of Love

Eat on……

chocolate heart in melting chocolate puddle

Chocolate sales soar for Valentines, have you bought yours yet? (Please see below for some inspiration). 

As Valentines is around the corner, I thought it might be timely to look at the connection between chocolate and love. 

So, if chocolate be the Food of Love – why?

A tonic aphrodisiac!

Emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma, loved his chocolate. He is renowned for drinking 50 golden goblets of chocolate drink in a day. With a reported harem of 50 young women to entertain too, drinking chocolate was believed to increase stamina!

Chocolate has a fascinating history, used as currency, but also a sign of your strength, wealth, and prowess. In the time of the Aztecs, women were not even allowed to drink chocolate. Boo.

Luckily women have made up for that since and it is believed that Marie Antoinette wouldn’t start her day without a cup of chocolate. We like her style.

“Dear Diamond, we all know who really is a girl’s best friend. Sincerely yours, Chocolate.” 

Chocolate contents

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and serotonin both of which are mood-lifting agents found naturally in the human brain.

Consumption causes your brain to release the pleasure chemical dopamine, which could well put you in the mood for love.

“Biochemically, love is just like eating large amounts of chocolate.”  John Milton

Clever Cadbury 

Richard Cadbury, the eldest son of John Cadbury, founder of the world-famous company, created the first known heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day 1868.

He was a pioneer in chocolate box design and often used his own paintings to make the lids of the boxes more appealing. He created heart-shaped boxes decorated with rosebuds and Cupids, which were already popular symbols of romance among the Victorians. Thus, a new Valentine’s Day tradition was born.

Be my Valentine

The people over at Hello Magazine have done all the hard work for us and produced a list of the best chocolate boxes and sweet treats to buy this Valentines’ Day! Go get your brownie points.

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”  Charles M. Schulz

Chocolate on the menu

Don’t just stop at a box of chocolates. Why not go all out and make some delicious chocolate creations to share at home. 

Here’s some inspiration:

Top of the chocs – my top five favourite chocolate recipes shared with you.

Chocolate Vodka (although you should have started this a bit ago), is still worth the wait.

If you are making your own creations, then here’s how to temper chocolate at home to avoid disasters like bloom.

The best hot chocolate, ideal for warming up and as a tasty treat, win, win.

Or maybe you want to go out for a chocolate-inspired meal. We are talking starters and mains as well as dessert.

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump

Whatever you do to celebrate love I hope it contains lots of chocolate – whether that is shared or just for YOU!

Secret confessions of a chocolatier

Secret confessions of a chocolatier

I’m saving my biggest confession for a bit later. Please read on to the end of the blog where all will be revealed…..

I’m not sure how secret my confessions are, but here goes:

Dawn Fry

Sexy Job Title

For years I worked in offices, I might have had a bit of a fancy title like General Manager at a Professional Body. No one really knew what you did though, unless you bored them with lots of detail.

Asked my profession now and I answer ‘chocolatier’, it feels exciting, a bit different, certainly tasty, and definitely a talking point.   

Confession No 1:
I love it when someone asks what I do.

Tales from the Tanks

Two tanks of chocolate

The title of this blog implied I would be giving away my secret confessions, in reality, I think you do more of that than me. In my workshops, there are a group of people leaning over a vat of molten chocolate. 

The air is thick with the aroma of chocolate.

People are dropping fillings into the tank, retrieving them, and then moving their forks up and down rhythmically, removing the excess chocolate. They start to talk and share their stories. As much as we have fun and a laugh together, we also share some difficult times. It’s a real privilege to be a part of that with my groups.  

Confession No 2:
Chocolate therapy is the way forward.

The wonderful world of chocolate

Working with chocolate is a wonderful way to earn a living, but the actual world of chocolate is amazing.

The fascinating history, the way it’s grown and manufactured. Many artisan producers play with flavours and create new and exciting pairings. Creativity, tastings, competitions, cakes, puddings, bars, truffles, and everything in-between. It’s great to be part of something so innovative and varied.

Confession No 3:
Since working with chocolate, I’ve gone properly over to the dark side, I love something really strong and bitter.

The downside

Cleaning up is the worst bit of the job. Chocolate really does get everywhere. On the upside, you can nibble a bit of chocolate while you work and I do reflect on the fact that someone could be telling me what to do. Even when I’m cleaning I love being my own boss.

Confession No 4:
I save up all my chocolate mats to wash in one go, I can’t face them otherwise. You need loud music and lots of tea towels.

People are the spice of life

A group of people at a hen party

From the outset, I never stood on my own making chocolates to sell. Workshops and experiences were my intentions and one I’m happy to have stuck with. It was a little tricky in lockdown, but thankfully we are back together again. I’ve never been so busy, so you must be up for experiences in person again too.

Confession No 5:
I love the people as much as I love the chocolate (sometimes even a little bit more). That’s my biggest secret. You make chocolate so much more fun, and it just wouldn’t be the same without you.

The not-so-secret confessions of a chocolatier!

7 reasons to just do it

7 reasons to just do it

What are you deliberating on right now?

It can feel so difficult to wrestle with a choice or change of direction. We might make a list of pros and cons, talk to all the people we know and trust, seeking answers elsewhere. At the end of the day, the decision is yours.

Sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and say yes to a situation or opportunity.

Here are 7 reasons to just do it:

Enthusiasm

You are obviously excited about this opportunity, or it would not be causing you the anxiety of deliberation. Listen to that emotion. What is it really telling you?

If you seek a new adventure of some sort, the reality is likely that you feel a bit stuck or stale with what is going on in your life at the moment. It’s time for a change or you would not have been attracted to the idea in the first place! Enthusiasm motivates you to take further action.

Momentum

While your energy is high, and you are in the mood to explore – act on it. Go and find out lots of information, speak to relevant people with a BIG caveat! Who you speak to matters! Some people, especially those close to you can be very cautious and negative about shiny new ideas.  

Seek out those that have relevant experience of what you want to explore. Use that momentum to really flesh out your idea in more detail. 

Energy and drive are required to make big changes.

Back yourself

You’ve got this.

Almost anything is actually possible if we put our minds to it. We tell ourselves we can’t do something as we have put ourselves in a pigeonhole. When we actually challenge ourselves to achieve something, it’s amazing the resources we find within ourselves.

There is also a whole world of experts, mentors, teachers, and coaches out there. If you don’t know how to do something go and find out about it from someone who does. If that’s starting a business, my hand is waving in the air!

Stretching your comfort zone

In a toilet in Shoreditch, there is some wallpaper that says, “your comfort zone will kill you”. 

Rather dramatic, but how true. We slowly shrivel up and fade away when we don’t challenge ourselves now and again. It can be just a small action, something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable now and again will work wonders for your self-esteem. Running a business stretches my comfort zone on a regular basis, there are some surprising things you will learn about yourself!

What’s the downside?

Is it losing face, fear of failure, scared someone will say no, someone will judge you? Honestly, how bad could the downside be? I think we can often overestimate the downside of something so be as objective as possible. If we fail, we have learned some valuable lessons. 

Can you afford to lose?

Putting my whole life, house, family, and the dog at risk from making a decision is not one I could live with. As much as I may dive in with a big decision and give it a go, I need to know the cost should it go wrong.

A default setting is often – I can’t afford that. That may well be because it’s a stretch financially. It is also about backing yourself to achieve something and that feels very uncomfortable. 

There are many ways to finance plans; business and personal loans, credit, etc – not just about what is currently in your piggy bank. Speak to a finance professional and take advice. Learn what the risk is to you and then make an educated choice on whether you can afford to lose or not.

 What will success look like?

Cork popping off a bottle of champagne with sparklers fizzing out of the top

You did it, took the plunge, and there you are sipping a glass of fizz reflecting on the journey you’ve been on.

What does success look like to you, what measures will mean that you have made it? Don’t just look at the numbers because it’s never just about the money. There will be financial goals, but what personal goals are there too? More free time, quality time with family and friends, holidays when it suits you and not the office rota?

Define your success criteria and if the decision means you are more likely to gain the success you seek, this life is far too short so………JUST DO IT!

Come and tell us your big news.

Fear of Failure or Fear of Success?

Fear of Failure or Fear of Success?

Most people will think that a fear of failure would stop them from starting something out of their comfort zone. If you don’t start something you can’t fail, so surely it’s far easier not to start.

failure written on a piece of paper on the table, success on another piece of paper being picked up

I beg to differ.

While fear of failure can prevent you from starting, far more powerful is your fear of success.

Let’s explore this a little more:

It’s personal

Do you believe that you deserve to succeed in whatever you set your mind to?

When you consider something that you really would like to do, can you imagine doing well at it? If you do imagine doing well, what emotions does that stir up for you?

Were you always told to be modest and humble, not to brag? Do you need to hide your potential success, so don’t try and achieve as much as you might be capable of?

Does success mean being busy, working all the time, and having no time to play? If you keep it safe and smaller, although you are bored or unfulfilled some of the time, is it better than being too busy?

Your relationships

Might you upset someone with a level of success? Will your success make you different in the eyes of friends, family, or partners? Do you believe some of your network would not like you if you gained a level of success?

Are you always the supporter in your relationships? What if that changed with you as the achiever, the most successful, the breadwinner? 

If you were super-successful, what support would you need?

Where might success lead for you? Does it mean you might leave some behind, or be faced with life-changing decisions?

Money Blocks

Pink piggy bank

Success may or may not have anything to do with money.

What is your relationship like with money?  

Is there a level of money that would make you uncomfortable?

Do you believe you deserve to have money?

You need Denise Duffield Thomas – she is an Entrepreneur that focuses on our relationships with money. 

I always recommend her book ‘Get Rich, Lucky Bitch’ to everyone on my business start-up course. She advocates that we all have money blocks. Emotions buried deep in our belief system stop us from reaching our next level of success. We need to identify and clear the blocks to move on.

Dare to Dream

What does success look like for you?

Dare to dream as big as you can. Forget all those labels, responsibilities, and worries, and take some time to identify what would be a wonderful achievement for you.

You might want to become super fit and healthy, eat differently

Write a book

Start a new business

Take on a role or job that you never dreamed possible

Learn a new hobby, instrument, sport, skill

Plant trees, take up volunteering, save the planet (we need you)

Make a plan!

If you fail you’ve learned. 

You may never reach your potential if you are too scared of being super-successful. It doesn’t have to be some huge grand scheme, it’s whatever success looks like for you. 

Why not come and tell us all about it – let’s make it real!

How to beat the January Blues

How to beat the January Blues

It’s cold, damp, and still quite dark. The twinkly lights are down, and if you are anything like us, Christmas was a bit of a write-off thanks to Covid.

Who could blame anyone suffering a bit of January blues right now?

Camping Du Lac, Entreveux, France.  Lake with mountains in the distance and kayaks on the shore

My top tip for making this month bearable – start planning your holiday(s).

How to beat the January blues – get excited about the trips you might be taking in 2022!

Who will be going?

Is it a family trip? Are you tied to the school holidays? Are you going with friends?  

What sort of holiday will suit all the people as much as possible?

Swimming pool

It’s easy to get rather rose-tinted spectacles when imagining your lovely family holiday. What’s the reality? 

Some of us don’t get on well with the heat, while others in the family don’t consider it a proper holiday without some serious sunshine. If f we are on a hot holiday I ensure there are easy swimming options. Ideal for those that overheat.

Action-packed adventures or roasting on a spit reading the latest rom-com? There’s bound to be a bit of everything required.  

It can be quite a responsibility to choose a holiday to suit all that are going.  

What’s the budget?

Many of us may sit down at the beginning of the year and wonder if a holiday will be possible financially. They can be a huge investment.

Our philosophy has always been to make a holiday possible, even if we have to compromise on other things. 

Shepherds hut at Pateley Bridge

We love our holidays so much we decided that fewer meals out or cooking on a budget are well worth doing to achieve a trip away.

We love a bit of camping or glamping – here’s why.

For some, without a bit of luxury, you may prefer to stay at home. Staying at home doesn’t do it for me, especially when I’m trying to beat the January blues. If a full-blown holiday is not possible, maybe that a mini-break will be more suitable instead.

Where would you like to go?

OK, right now it may be a little difficult to pick any place and know with confidence that you can get there.

Let’s hope we can travel more freely soon.

Make a list of the destination(s) you would most like to go to for your holiday and get planning. Look up hotels, villas, or campsites. What are the local tourist attractions, what do the restaurants, cafes, and bars look like? This all helps in the getting excited stakes.

Do you need a backup plan?

The past two years have taught us that the best-laid plans don’t always come to fruition. Can you create a backup plan?

Highland Cow on the Isle of Mull
Isle of Mull

Would a holiday in the UK work for you?  

Make a list of all the places that you haven’t yet visited in the UK that you would like to explore some more. Isle of Mull anyone?  

If like us you have a dog, a UK cottage, or a camping break could be just the thing to get excited about and you know you are more likely to be able to go!

campsite in the mountains with sun setting
Austria

European Adventures

For years I planned our extensive camping trips all over Europe during the month of January. There will be more to come I’m sure, even if it sadly won’t be as easy as it used to be.

This involved choosing the campsites we wanted to visit in various destinations. I then worked out a route, with hotel stops, or mini-camps en-route.  

It’s taken years of making mistakes to know what works best for us. Like not doing big transfers on a Friday or Saturday. Knowing how long we can spend in the car on a big trip, and how many stopovers will be required.  

For hotels, I usually use booking.com as I want the flexibility of being able to cancel if necessary. 

For camping, it’s Cool Camping all the way.

Eventually, everything would go onto an extensive itinerary which I would present to our friends (that we usually go camping with) and we all start to get excited.

The point of this is that there are not only different countries to get excited about visiting. There are the campsites, our epic journeys and quirky hotel stops along the way too!

Adding in some extras

It might be a weekend away with the girls or boys.

Bathtub on balcony.  Treehouse in the woods

A treehouse stay in the woods with the dog.

An overnight stop in a City.

Any trip away can count in the beating the January blues campaign – come and tell us where you are planning to visit in 2022. Safe and happy travels to you.

What’s the plan, Stan?

What’s the plan, Stan?

I’m not a great fan of New Year resolutions. They tend to be a bit flash in the pan. However, now is a great time of year to reflect and work out something more meaningful and relevant for the following months and beyond.

Let’s hope there are not too many more weeks of restrictions and compromise to come. At the time of writing this, it seems that we have a bit to go yet. 

This is the moment between Christmas and New Year. Usually the calm between two busy periods. For us, Christmas had to be cancelled, so it’s been exceptionally quiet for a time. The perfect opportunity to work on what’s the plan, Stan!

Dawn Fry

Why make a plan?

You may feel the need to make some changes in your life, these are more achievable if you think about what needs to be different and attempt to tackle them at some agreed point.

Perhaps, pandemic permitting, you would simply like to travel or see friends and family further afield. While these last two years have taught us that plans can’t be set in stone, it’s great to think about how & when you might do such things and plot them in the diary.

What do you want?

We are so often on the treadmill of doing stuff, getting through each day, and not thinking much beyond the daily grind. There’s nothing wrong with that but now and again it’s good to check in and make sure we are doing some of the good stuff too.

So rarely do most of us sit down with a pen and paper and work out what matters to us most. 

Let’s break it down

Take a moment to think about each of the following areas of your life.

Work

Home
Family
Friends
Health
Fitness
Leisure/fun

Describe the absolute best-case scenario for each of those categories.

What does work look like if you are doing the dream job for example? Perhaps you have always dreamed of being your own boss? Is it time to explore making this a reality, you might consider turning a hobby into something more serious?

Here are some of the reasons I chose to work with chocolate!

Now go over each area again and describe where you are now. Be honest with yourself, it’s your life, and time is ticking on.

Mind the gap

What/where are the gaps from the dream scenario to what you are actually doing now.

Do you need to focus more on your health and fitness to achieve some of your dreams?

Is it time to factor in more fun as you have not had time/energy to focus on this area of your life and you feel a little stale/bored?

Maybe you feel lacking in confidence and need to work on this first?

Identifying what’s holding you back, or feeling a little fearful is important. You are giving it air time and yourself the opportunity to work through issues.

Once you have identified the gaps – this will form the basis of your plan.

Write up the headlines and put some dates against when you wish to achieve them. It does not have to be done overnight. Some things will be longer-term.

What is most exciting on that list to you?

Do something towards that first.

Come back to your list throughout the year, or at agreed intervals (every quarter, six months, annually) and rinse and repeat.

You can change a plan – nothing is set in stone.

Come and tell us your plan Stan and inspire us all over on Facebook.

Do you have the KIT for business?

Do you have the KIT for business?

There have been some perfect examples of where the right KIT has resulted in sales this week.

In one case without the KIT a sale would have fallen through.

Do you have this in your business?

Dawn Fry

What’s KIT? 

KIT is simply ‘Keeping In Touch’ – do this properly and it will help your business no end. Let’s explore if you have the KIT for business

Firstly, I want to tell you a little story…….

How my KIT resulted in extra sales

A customer had been in touch regarding purchasing a gift voucher. They had lots of specific questions, which I answered but it had gone quiet. 

After a few days, I sent another email, asking if I had answered all the questions they had and could I help any further. For some reason, the original email had ended up in the junk folder and had not been read. 

From the customer’s perspective, it looked like I had not bothered. A follow-up and the customer was completely apologetic about not seeing my original response. The result – gift voucher purchased. Very gratefully received and all because I bothered to go back and check-in.

KIT for business

There are a few simple things you can do to keep in touch with your customers, build good relationships, and hopefully help to boost sales.

Rapid Response

If someone sends you an enquiry, get back to them as quickly as possible. When you are in the mood to buy something, you want to achieve your goal. 

Go back to a customer quickly while they are in buying mode. Leave it too long and they may have gone to someone else or changed their mind.

The number of times I hear ‘thanks for coming back to me so quickly’ backed up by the booking – it’s worth a rapid response.

Keep it Simple

How easy it is for someone to get in touch with you? Is it obvious and simple for someone to hit a button, drop you a line, DM, email or call whether it’s your website or social media?  

Sometimes we overlook the absolute obvious. Check your customer’s journey and ensure they can easily make contact if they wish to enquire or buy from you.

Make a Note

Who has been in touch, and have they bought from you yet? If not, have you gone back to them to help further? Can you send them something relevant and useful that will help build your reputation with them and encourage them to purchase in the future?

Whether you keep a database, have a sophisticated system, or simply put a note in your diary – keep a note to touch base.  

Newsletter

A great way to keep in touch is to drop existing and potential customers a line with all your news, or relevant information that they would find interesting. A newsletter is a fab way to do this.  

Be mindful of data protection and do things properly. If you subscribe to a proper newsletter service, there will be an opt-in and unsubscribe service in-built. There are some free services for this too, such as Mailchimp. Act professionally and respectively at all times, but do tell people about what you do regularly. It’s not their business to remember, it’s your business to remind.

NO often means not now, it’s not the right time. Keep in touch and you will be around when the time is YES.

KIT Opportunities

What other opportunities are there in your business to keep in touch?

Mum’s book children’s parties with me. I offer pre-printed invitations, which I send to mum on booking. That ensures that all the mums/dads or carers of the attendees have my details. When their little one comes home full of chocolate and asks if they can have a chocolate party – it’s easy to get in touch and book.

Recipe cards are another keep in touch tool I give out at my adult parties.

If you wish to up the ante a little, here’s how you can work in some WOW.

Daily Disciplines

It takes effort and energy to run your business, and you need to set yourself some daily disciplines to ensure you make keeping in touch a priority.

Explain to your potential customers when you are around, and when you might be taking a moment for family, leisure, or pleasure.  

It’s your rules and you can run your business how you wish, as long as you communicate clearly and act exactly how you say you will.

What would you add to the KIT – do come and share any extra tips with us over on my Facebook page.

If this has made you want to run your own business, here are some potential ideas for you. You might even consider working with chocolate!

What I’ve learnt from running events

What I’ve learnt from running events

Whether you run your own business or not, you will come up against running an ‘event’ at some point. The Christmas lunch, a party, or something work-related – you can’t escape!

A group of people at a hen party

I’ve been running chocolate workshops for over 12 years, and I love working with chocolate and people. 

A workshop, dinner party, or having a table-full at Christmas, the same principles apply to whatever event you might be planning.

Here’s what I’ve learnt from running events

Who’s it for

Who’s your audience?  

My events span primary and secondary schools to team building – so the audience is very diverse. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the attendees. What will make it interesting and relevant for them? If you are working with small children, there can be no gaps (have some colouring up your sleeve to keep them occupied for example).

Here are some specific tips on running successful school events.

What are the expected outcomes?

If you are being hired to deliver an event, this may be easier to achieve. Ask! It’s best to request a phone call or a face-to-face meeting if possible as you can drill down into expectations and ask specific questions. This allows you to manage expectations too.

Even if it’s a family gathering, take a moment to reflect on the guests and what would be suitable for all, bearing in mind there could be different ages and abilities.

How can you achieve expected outcomes?

Have an open mind. Sometimes a request can seem almost impossible. 

I can't written on a piece of paper.  Someone is cutting off the 't so it reads I can

Hold that thought for a while and think to yourself I would like a solution to this. See what comes up.

Trust yourself and your previous experiences, don’t be afraid to put your own stamp on something.

Think about yourself and your needs too. Don’t promise something that is at such a high cost to you it will go wrong, cause you too much stress or make you feel resentful.

What’s plan B?

This is not always possible but having a backup plan is a great strategy. It might just be for elements of the event, where you think there could be stumbling blocks. If a crisis happens on the day, you will find a way through. As long as no one is in actual danger, own up, explain, agree to move on – whatever it takes to get things back on track.

Run it through

This is the best way to ensure your event is a success. Imagine the moment the first person arrives, to the moment the last person leaves, what will be happening and when. Then go through exactly what will be required for each element of their time with you. 

Make a list as you go.

Prep within an inch of your life

Someone laying the table

Once you’ve run it through you will know what needs to be prepped beforehand. Do as much as possible. You can’t be too prepared as once your event is underway your attention is required, and time disappears.

Know your limits. Think about what others can bring to the party if you need to have someone on hand to help. Play to your strengths.  

Act like a pro 

This is not meant to be confusing – you need to be authentic and yourself, but you do need to be the best version of yourself you can be. This does take some energy and it may not feel totally comfortable at first.

Sometimes you have to fake it a little until you make it. This is not being dishonest or inauthentic, it’s acting a little more confident than you feel. It’s about NOT over-sharing how nervous you are or all the things you are worried about that might go wrong. Act like it’s all fine, and if it doesn’t feel fine just yet, keep the faith that it will.

It’s your event, you are responsible for creating some atmosphere, be engaging and interesting, and put lots of energy into making it a success. You can only do so much though, and sometimes your best is not good enough for everyone. We don’t always know their story and will need to chalk it up to experience.

Gain valuable feedback

Find out how your event was received. A corporate-style event makes this a little easier as you can supply feedback forms. 

Talk to people, make a call, go over elements of the event with them, especially if you felt it could have gone better at certain points. Listen. 

You will pick up little nuggets at the event itself if you are open to hearing how people are experiencing their time with you.  

Review and improve

Go over the event in fine detail. Think about those things that worked well, do more of them. For the things that didn’t work quite as well, or you gained insight from feedback, tweak. Keep honing as we can always improve.

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

Seriously, if you really want to know what I’ve learnt from running events, add chocolate! You don’t have to be a chocolatier, you could just throw in a tasting for fun, everyone will love it.

Every event is hard work as it will take effort and energy to make it work well. Hosting a great event is such a buzz, one that you will learn and grow from too.

Be confident in your event and others will follow suit. Enjoy and don’t forget to come and tell us all about it.

Top of the Christmas Chocs

Top of the Christmas Chocs

I previously shared my ‘top of the chocs’ – five favourite chocolate recipes you can make at home.

It’s time for a festive update and a focus on lovely chocolate creations ideal for Christmas.

Here are my five top of the Christmas Chocs:

Christmas cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles topped with holly

Chocolate Christmas Cake 

Maybe you are not a fan of the rich fruity traditional Christmas cake and you’d like an alternative? 

This is an Italian version – full of nuts and chocolate. I found it in my Delia Christmas cookbook, but she credits the wonderful Anna del Conte for its origin). Chocolate and nuts, what’s not to love about this Christmas cake!  

It will keep for two weeks and can be frozen. No weeks of feeding beforehand.

Yule Log

Chocolate yule log

No Christmas would be complete without a chocolate log or Bûche de Noël.

I’ve shared a Mary Berry recipe here with thanks to BBC Good Food. The only amendment I would make is to use a higher cocoa content chocolate in the ganache. Mary is fond of using Bournville or similar, but I prefer more chocolate kick for my bark! 

There are some good shop-bought options available. Here’s a list of the best shop buys from Good Housekeeping.

Cheats Chocolate Trifle 

We all need a little cheat over Christmas, especially one that looks and tastes fabs but requires minimum effort.  

If you have time, you can cheat a little less by making your brownies. Shop bought will work fine here though.  

Method:

Break up your brownies and pop in the bottom of your trifle bowl.  

Spoon over some booze of your choice (Baileys works well and is suitably festive).  

Add a layer of something extra here – crushed Oreo biscuits, Maltesers or some boozy cherries for example.

Take a pot of posh custard (one with real vanilla) and add 100g of dark chocolate in button form, or broken into small pieces. Gently heat to melt the chocolate pour. Allow to cool (you can pop some clingfilm on the top to stop a skin from forming). Pour this over the brownies – cool.

The final layer is some boozy cream. Add the same booze you used to soak the brownies – around 100ml booze to 500ml double cream. Sift in 25g of icing sugar and whisk to soft peaks.

Spoon on a generous layer of cream and decorate with chocolate sprinkles of your choice (more Maltesers if you have already used them)

Enjoy mmmmmm.

Chocolate Salami 

Chocolate salami

This is a kid-friendly version of chocolate salami, which they can make – a rocky road sausage. It requires a couple of hours for the shaping element. Choose a festive film to go with the making process! With thanks to Claire Burnet of Chococo.  

Method:

Cover a baking tray with two layers of clingfilm

Melt 225g dark/milk chocolate to taste

Smash 100g of digestives and add these with 100g mixed dried fruits of your choice to the melted chocolate mixture, and 50g mini marshmallows – mix well

Leave to cool for 10 mins then pour onto your baking tray

Bring up the clingfilm and fold over the chocolate mixture, roll to form a sausage shape

Pop in the fridge, take out every 10 – 15 mins, and roll again to return to a sausage shape. It takes about approx. 2 hours to properly firm up

10 mins before you want to serve your sausage, take it out of the fridge. Roll in icing sugar for an authentic salami look, slice, and serve

There is a rather grown-up fruity salami sold by Chococo’s. It won a Great Taste award and is vegan-friendly.   

Truffles 

The perfect little homemade pressie, or to serve as a treat after a festive meal. Don’t forget you can flavour your ganache mixture with some booze or decorate in different coatings such as icing sugar or nuts.

three truffles with different chocolate finishes
Method:

250g dark chocolate

250g double cream

100g light muscovado sugar

Break the chocolate into small pieces and pop in a bowl.  

Place the cream and sugar in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for one minute.

Turn off the heat and allow the cream to cool for one minute. (If you pour boiling cream onto your chocolate, it will cause the chocolate to split – time the minute, don’t guess!)

Pour the cream/sugar onto the chocolate and mix well until smooth and very glossy – you can add a splash of booze at this stage. It may look like it is going to split but keep whisking and it will come back to a smooth mixture.

Allow to cool at room temperature, then place in the fridge, covered, for at least two hours or until fully set.

To roll, remove from the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop even-sized pieces and place them on parchment paper. Powder your hands with cocoa powder and roll the ganache into even-sized spheres.    

(Take care not to handle for too long or the ganache will begin to melt).

Bloody Mary cocktail with lime and celery stick
Bloody Mary made with chocolate vodka!

If you want to go to town, you could then dip your ganache into tempered chocolate and create a lovely crunchy shell.

Not sure what’s the best chocolate to work with read this first!

Now after all that cooking you may need a restorative hot chocolate, or perhaps something a little stronger – chocolate vodka anyone?

The best chocolate to buy this Christmas

The best chocolate to buy this Christmas

It wouldn’t be Christmas without chocolate.

chocolate truffles by paul a young

There is plenty already on offer in the shops. What bargains are out there for some of the old favourites? Let’s also look at some mid-range and posh chocs if you want to change it up a bit this year.

What is the best chocolate to buy this Christmas?

Advent Calendars

You pop the same version in your basket each year and try not to eat the whole lot before you give it to the kids!  

How about something a little alternative?  

The Evening Standard has compiled a brilliant list of different advent calendars which include vegan, artisan chocolatiers, charity options, green, free-from, and even some alternatives to chocolate!

The Trusty Favourites

What do you have in your house?  

Quality Street, Roses, Celebrations?

That big bowl filled with shiny wrappers is too tempting, and even when you are full of turkey you can’t help dipping in on the way past!

Aldi currently seems to offer the best deal on Quality Street and Celebrations, with the price reduced to £3.50 for 650g. Morrisons are offering Roses at £3.99 for 600g or two tubs for £6.99, Tesco £4 for 600g or £7 for two tubs with a Clubcard (at the time of writing).

Mid-range Chocs

A couple of years ago we decided to ditch the chocolate tubs (we ate too many of them) and go for a little less in quantity but a little more up-market in quality.

We opted for a smaller bowl of Lindor chocolates instead. Now comes a real dilemma – what flavour(s) do you choose?

White, Strawberries and Cream, Milk, Salted Caramel, Hazelnut, Pistachio, Mint, Coconut, Orange, Dark or go for an assorted box?

If you are lucky enough to live near one of their shops, you can go grab some pick and mix.

Another good chocolate shop to consider is Hotel Chocolat. I love choosing their selector packs for each person sitting at my Christmas table and will offer these at the end of our meal. They are currently £12 for three.

Chococo, an independent company based in Dorset, has a fantastic range of chocolates on offer and a good online shop. Chocolate festive wreath cake (vegan option available) or a festive chocolate salami anyone?

Posh Choc

If you really would like to go, gourmet, this Christmas, then you might consider buying some chocolates from artisan chocolatiers.

William Curley, Pierre Marcolini, and Paul A Young are some of my personal favourites. Many of their creations are like works or art, they almost look too good to eat!

The Chocolate Society also has a wonderful selection of gourmet chocolates on offer. Cocoa Runners showcase brilliant and alternative chocolate bars, which you can buy as a one-off or sign up for a subscription.

If you are in London, a visit to Fortnum and Mason is well worth it for chocolate treasures. Or pop to their website where they say it how it is…… ‘Welcome to Chocolate Wonderland’.

The posh chocolate world is a wonderful delight to explore. Enjoy!

Chocolate is the easy bit of Christmas
Chocolate Christmas pudding on green mat

If you are feeling a little frazzled, here are some great tips to get ahead this Christmas.

If you want a bit of chocolate therapy, you may wish to come and make your own treats – to keep for you or pass on to loved ones. Gift vouchers are also available.  

Do come and share your fav chocs with us all – we want to know what you have?  

Happy Chocmas everyone.

More tips to make Christmas a cracker

More tips to make Christmas a cracker

In part one we covered the run-up to the big day. Part two is all about the day itself.

Here are some more tips to make Christmas a Cracker:

A Christmas dinner table laid with plates, napkins, baubles and glasses of wine

It’s worth repeating……

Perfection is overrated, preparation is key 

If you are the one reading this, you are also likely the person who takes on too much responsibility for everyone and tries a little too hard to make everything perfect. As much as we want the best day possible, we need to keep things real.  

Do all you can to get ahead, especially on the food front and that’s the best you can do. It’s most likely you are serving up a super-sized roast dinner and you’ve done plenty of those before!

If you have old enough kids or able family members, give them some jobs to do.

Carve out some me time if at all possible. It might be a quick dance around the kitchen while prepping the veg on your own or sneaking off for a relaxing soak in the bath.  

What is most important to you?

  • Chatting with family members
  • Watching your kids open their presents?
  • Playing a game together?
  • Quiet reflection time?
  • Tuning in for the Queen’s speech?
  • Fill in your thing….

Work out what really matters, and make sure at least that one thing happens with you fully present (not running off to stir the gravy)!

Timetable

Some of you will have a routine and a more set timetable for your day. Others may wish to change it up a little each year?

Who is joining you and what will suit the whole party best?  

Elderly relatives may prefer a late lunch and nap time, rather than a big meal later on?

Early breakfast, traditional lunch, and a buffet tea?

Brunch, nibbles, and a big evening meal?

Once you have decided on the main event, you can make all other plans fit the timetable. Whatever works for you all and doesn’t keep one of you chained to the kitchen sink (unless you want to be)!

Breakfast

There have been plenty of hangovers present at our breakfast table. Green faces trying to cope with a big breakfast followed by all the other food that is on the menu. It was just too much.  

Now we have a ‘choose your own breakfast’ option. It might mean you have to make it yourself if you are a little late down to the table. 

A stack of pancakes with frosted raspberries on top and by the side

We are all together for the main food event later, so this works better for us!  

What breakfast do you serve up on Christmas Day?

  • Light and fruity, leaving plenty of space for later  
  • Full-on big fry-up with all the trimmings
  • Do you go pancakes with lashings of maple syrup
  • A bit posh with some smoked salmon
  • Take the pastry route with lots of yummy croissants/pain au choc etc
  • Or spice it up with a shakshuka
  • All washed down with a buzz fizz or an early snowball – or just a good cuppa perhaps?

Decisions, decisions!

It’s not just for Christmas

Our little border terrier is called Coco and one of the things we enjoy is the family dog walk on Christmas Day.  

364 other walks are required during the year, but we try and make the Christmas one a little special. We take treats, sometimes a tipple too. Last year we decided to get out to see the sunrise (not actually as early as you might think as it’s late December).

Whether you have a dog or not, getting outside and enjoying a walk is a great Christmas tradition!

Opening Presents

Breakfast and walking the dog first, we save presents for when we get back. Stacked into piles (if we are lucky to have a few) and opened in turn, watching each person see what they’ve received. Usually washed down with a little fizz and nibbles to keep us going!

It’s a family tradition to open in a round, I’m sure many follow suit in this regard! Makes the presents last longer. Might well be tricky for the very little ones, but it definitely works when they get older.

The main event

Set a time for serving your main meal, write down all the elements you need to achieve and by when. 

It doesn’t matter if you are late. 

The oven is full, and it can all take longer than expected.

Many magazines or Christmas cookbooks offer a full timetable for you to follow if you would find this helpful.  

Spreading the meal out can work well. Have a rest after the main course and serve puddings and/or cheese later instead of immediately afterwards.

Game On

Full-up and fed well it’s time to play!

What games will suit the whole party? A bit of charades, a game of Monopoly, or perhaps you treat yourself to a new game each year. 

Here’s a list of great family games compiled by Mumsnet to consider.

Our family loves a game of cards. We’ve been playing cards for years, a tradition handed down from grandparents to our parents and now to us and the kids.

I really hope you can have some fun this Christmas and the chance to be with those you love.

Please tell us about your day and any tips or traditions you’d love to share that help make the day a success for all you can pop to my Facebook page and share.

7 tips to make Christmas a cracker

7 tips to make Christmas a cracker

I love Christmas. The chance to be with loved ones, eat great food, take a break from work, enjoy twinkly lights and a roaring fire.

Christmas tree with twinkly lights swirling into the sky

Christmas can be a sad and lonely time too. It’s a time when we think about those we have lost, those that might be struggling. It’s not for everyone.

Some of us take on too much and come Christmas time are stressed and exhausted. Perfection is overrated, but preparation is key.

Here are some tips on making your Christmas a cracker (part one):

Food

This is one of the best bits for me. Planning the big day and what we might eat. We never (or rarely) have turkey. Some of the family can take or leave it, so we try and have something special and different each year.  

A few months prior, I will start to pour over my cookbooks or trawl around the internet, getting a feel for what might make the menu. Do this well ahead of time and you are not panicking about what to make when things get busy.

Once you have your menu down, you can start to plan how you will get the food element done.

It’s all about the people

My hubby says that he can’t understand the fuss around Christmas food. The main point, he felt, was to be with the people on the day, and so many spent hours in the kitchen stressing about the meal. He’s a real eat-to-live person, so he doesn’t get the foodie thing. 

Christmas is so about the food for me, but he does have a point. I do consider a menu where I can get ahead and minimise my time in the kitchen on the big day. Kitchen-time is treasured by me too – a bit of cooking therapy and a quiet moment can be lovely.

Christmas cake covered in chocolate and sprinkles and topped with holly

Get ahead

Christmas cake is an easy one, I’m cooking mine next week (October half-term). I do a Delia – and we cover ours in marzipan and chocolate. Who do you use?

What element of your meal can be made ahead and frozen?

Par-boil roasties, open freeze, put into freezer bags, and pop them frozen into hot oil on the big day. 

Snowball cocktails with cherries and small cakes on a checked tablecloth

The crispiest version of roasties and no kitchen full of steam.

Red cabbage/cauliflower cheese/bread sauce – whatever you can, make ahead and freeze.

Pudding – last year I used a fantastic Delia recipe for frozen brulees. We didn’t eat them on the big day, but as they were in the freezer, we ate them when we fancied instead! Here are some of my fav choc puds.

Booze – it doesn’t go off, so you can definitely get ahead on your booze buying. Snowball anyone?

Cards on the table

Christmas cards are not really my thing so mostly I don’t send them. Especially if I am seeing the people I might send them to on a regular basis. 

Much prefer to make a charitable donation in lieu of sending cards and paying postage. I think many appreciate this and it’s important to me to be charitable, especially at Christmas.

Presents

Buying presents for people is one of my favourite things to do.  

I usually start this around the end of August and ensure I’m done by the end of October, early November.  Usually, I’m super busy with chocolate workshops on the run-up to Christmas, so having this element done nice and early works well for me.  

That may sound ridiculous, but it takes all the pressure off. Buying in dribs and drabs over the weeks means there is no last-minute rush. 

No huge pressure to fight around the shops with everyone or rely on deliveries turning up in time.

Keep a list of everyone you have to buy for. Write what you have bought for each person as you buy it, so you can refer to your list and know what you have yet to buy. Each year I copy the list over, I can go back over the years and see what I bought previously if I want inspiration or to avoid buying the same old thing each year.

I might well buy an experience rather than a physical present. People love doing things together and creating memories. PS: Hubby and I can help with chocolate or blacksmithing!

As well as the main pressies, I especially love a table pressie. Buying a tiny token for each person seated at the table to open after dinner. It might be a mini bottle of booze, some chocs or make-up for example.  

One thing that worked well was each having some posh chocolates as table presents one year. 

We enjoyed these instead of a pud!

Have conversations with loved ones and decide on a budget, so it doesn’t get silly. Put all the names in a hat and only buy for one person from a group if you have lots to consider. Agree on a price limit and go and buy for one person instead of everyone.

Make your own gifts – now is the time to make chutneys, jams, and jellies. Good Housekeeping always has some great make-ahead ideas.

As much as it’s lovely to choose a gift for someone you love, it’s definitely the thought that counts, not the amount you spend.

It’s a wrap

Buying the pressies, great! 

Cardboard box tied with red string, on a table with twinkly lights and tree decorations

Wrapping the pressies, boo!  

One of the worst jobs of Christmas for me. My sister is the best wrapper I know, she manages truly beautiful creations. However, in the spirit of trying to be more eco-friendly, we have ditched the wrapping paper and re-use bags, or even newspaper. 

We also ditched the crackers for the same reason.

I will rope in Hubby to help and we often have a wrapping blitz and get it all done in one go.

Sharing is caring

What are you having for the big day? Let’s share top foodie tips and menus.

What do you do for presents? 

How do you come up with inspiration?

I’d love to know how you celebrate Christmas. Please pop over to my Facebook page and share your tips for a great Christmas.

There is so much more to say, so head over to part two (covering breakfast, timetables, party games, and your guests).

How to run successful school events

How to run successful school events

I’m not teacher trained. Everything I have learned is from hands-on experience working in the many schools I’ve visited around the UK.

Empty classroom with desks and a blackboard

Primary, secondary, state, private, and specialist schools have been good enough to book my services over many years. Specialist schools might be for excluded children, unable to stay in mainstream education or those with learning disabilities for example.

This week I was lucky enough to be invited to run chocolate tasting workshops at a secondary school as part of an Enrichment Day. I ran the same workshop five times for five different classes. Hard work but the children loved it and feedback has been really positive. 

Here are my tips on how to run successful school events:

Be safe and follow protocols

Ensure you know what is expected by the school and what is required legally for your own protection and that of the school and children.  

DBS certification, Health and Safety information/certification if relevant, your safeguarding policy for example. Please do your research and find out what is required from the relevant authorities.

Types of events

The school will have booked you for a specific event. Ensure you have understood the outcomes they expect from the day and clearly communicated these.  

After sending over the initial information, I will try and arrange a phone call with the school contact to ensure I fully understand their expectations. It’s a chance for you to explain in your own words how the event will work too.

Remember, say yes and then work out how you are going to deliver what they want. You have the chance to tweak and advise what would work best for them.

Thanks to being asked to do things, I’ve developed workshops for primary schools that included chocolate making and tasting. I offer the same for secondary schools, as well as Enterprise Days.

Enterprise Days

I will typically work with a whole year group. When I was first tasked with putting on this type of day, I knew I had 180 pupils and I had to make it relevant and interactive for all. My aim was to get to smaller working groups.  

I started the day with a plenary session. Speaking to the whole year group and setting them up for the challenge before sending them back to their classrooms.  

Each class became a new chocolate company. Within each company were five departments. Every department had to communicate with each other to complete a business plan for a new chocolate company concept. Once this was submitted, they got to work on a presentation.  

We all came together to hear their pitches and a winning company was announced.

What the pupils create, their imagination and their enthusiasm is truly inspiring.   One lad once said to me, “I might run my own business as then I could really make a difference in the world.”

It’s all in the preparation

Prep within an inch of your life! Go over everything you will be doing with a fine toothcomb and ensure you are ready to deliver. You don’t have any time once you are in the classroom.

If you are going to be catering for any special needs, ensure you are fully aware of how best to handle things. Ask the teacher for advice if necessary.

The school may have informed you about any special dietary requirements (if relevant). I recommend checking again once in the classroom in case someone has been missed.

There is often hardly any time to even visit the loo on a school day, so have everything you need to hand. Include your drinks, snacks, and lunch.

Have the right mindset

You genuinely have to like the children.

They are enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, and funny. You may find their behaviour a little challenging at times, but remember they are just kids. There is usually a reason for their behaviour and it’s your job to make everyone feel included and able.

You need to be on their side and want them to have a good time.  

If you can’t manage that, they will spot it a mile off.

Show your expertise

Demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, and interest in your topic. Bring it alive.

Dipping chocolates into a tank of chocolate

Think about the audience and how best they will receive the information. Engage the children with questions and allow them to interact. Bring props, visuals, hand things around.

However tired or trying some situations maybe, you need to be professional at all times.

If you are faced with a situation that you have not encountered before, use other experts to help you get this right. If you will be dealing with specific special needs, go seek advice on how best to communicate with your audience for example.

I recommend Next Page Books in Hitchin for some special needs advice and relevant reading material.

Control the room

Think about the age of the children in terms of room control. Clapping patterns might be ideal for primary school children, but inappropriate for older ones.

Be in charge, be firm and fair.

Work with the teacher. 

Different coloured chalks on a blackboard

How do they control noise in the class, emulate their methods, or introduce your own?  

Get buy-in from the pupils at the outset. Explain what you will be doing to ask them to stop talking and do that. Don’t start shouting over the class – you will lose your voice and control.

Rarely some teachers are not great at class control. I’ve been in classrooms where the teacher shouted all day and was disrespected by the class.  

Feel free to impose your own class control methods and ensure you get the class to listen.  

Who are the stakeholders?

The teacher may have booked you and wishes to demonstrate to the head or governors that it was a good investment.  

Help them achieve this. 

If they visit the classroom to see what’s going on, include them in activities if possible. Perhaps you could leave something behind, to demonstrate what the children have been working on. Gain feedback from the teachers/children to help justify the investment.

To every teacher out there who runs successful school events every day, I take my hat off to you. I’m in awe of the amazing things you do with our children every day. Be a teacher for a day and you will get to see how hard they work. Very rewarding work and worth all the effort.  

Wishing you good luck with your school events.

The best hot chocolate?

The best hot chocolate?

The leaves are turning, the nights are drawing in – it’s officially hot chocolate season once again. 

Chocolate milk with cream on top with autumn leaves scattered around the plate

I’m going to give you my simple tips for the best hot chocolate (in my opinion). Including a bit of history, I’ve shared a recipe for Aztec-style hot chocolate too.

Read on for a review of a new hot chocolate outfit that is a must-visit next time you are up North.

What do you consider the best hot chocolate? Here are my tips:

A simple recipe

Ditch the pre-made chocolate drinks.

Take some of your favourite chocolate, add milk, and heat for the best results.

Hot chocolate in tall glass with cream and sprinkles with a separate pot of mini marshmallows on the side

25g – 30g of chocolate in button form or chop into smallish chunks.  

Measure milk of your choice in the mug you will be serving it in.

Add the cold milk to the chocolate and gently warm in a pan, or in short bursts in the microwave.

Stir frequently, preferably using a whisk.

Serve with adornments of your choice (cream, mallows, grated chocolate, cacao nibs) or leave and drink straight.

Use 50/50 milk/water if you prefer something lighter.

It’s all about the chocolate

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

I prefer a good quality dark chocolate for the best hot chocolate. 70% or more in strength would be my preference. Remember the quality of the chocolate is not always reflected in the percentage of cocoa. It may be that you like chocolate that has a good hit of flavour, but has a lower cocoa content.

Remember the milk will sweeten the mixture, so try and go a little darker in your chocolate choice for more chocolate flavour.  

Mix chocolates. If you are not a fan of dark chocolate, then use milk and add a little dark to mix. It will enhance the flavour and add more depth to your delicious hot chocolate drink.

If you want to try something different, strong, and spicey, then try this……..

Aztec-style Hot Chocolate

This is a water-based hot chocolate recipe with lots of added spices.

100g dark chocolate (in button form, or broken into small pieces)

 25g brown sugar

 20g cocoa powder

Spices of your choice – I tend to add lots, including chilli, ginger, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Heat 500ml of water, add the sugar and the cocoa powder, and bring to a simmer, stirring, for three to four minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for one minute. 

Add your chocolate and spices and whisk vigorously. Return to the heat bring back to the simmer for a further two to three minutes – it’s then ready to serve.

For some, this is an acquired taste, but I love the depth and spiciness of this drink. Your kitchen will smell wonderful with a heady aroma of chocolate and spice!

Cocoa Joe’s

Cocoa Joe’s, a small independent company is currently based in York and Patetley Bridge only. On a recent visit to Pateley Bridge, a local recommended I try out their hot chocolate. It was a fab experience.

There was a chocolate menu. 

Hot chocolate drink in white cup and saucer

You chose your hot chocolate drink based on the chocolate it would contain. An outfit after my own heart!  

The server was really helpful and let me taste various options before I decided on the strength I wished to go for. From white, ruby, milk, and many dark varieties of chocolate up to a 100% option. 

There were chocolates from various regions, single-origin chocolate and the server was knowledgeable about all the chocolates on offer.

Chocolate chosen, the buttons were melted into hot, frothy milk, some grated chocolate added to the top and that was it. Silky, full chocolate taste and completely satisfying and delicious. It’s up there as one of my best hot chocolates.

How do you take yours?

Please come and share your top tips and photos on my Facebook page!

What a fab idea for a new business!

10 tips to keep them coming back

10 tips to keep them coming back

As a small business owner, you have a unique opportunity to provide a passionate and dedicated service for your customers.

Get this right and your customers will sing your praises to others. Most importantly, they will stick around to do more business with you too.

This is why you need sticky customers. Read on for 10 tips to keep them coming back for more…..

Great customer service will make the world a better place

Imagine all those happy customers.

Maya Angelou quote "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel."

You have helped create a warm glow for them instead of the usual huge frustrations. Too many of us are treated poorly, without respect, and just not listened to. Become their ear, make them feel better, just simply CARE.

There will be less moaning (except for the weather perhaps). Customers will start to share their feel-good stories instead.

Little by little it may help to lift the mood of the nation.

Let’s start the customer service revolution

Great customer service has such massive potential.

Exceptional service makes you stand out from competitors. You will gain loyal followers, repeat business, build strong relationships, and subsequently grow your business.

I believe it’s more than that, it’s our bigger purpose.

We have a duty to get good at this because your customers really do matter. Be thankful they choose to do business with you. Without them, you don’t have a business anyway.

We can set the tone for others to follow in our footsteps. By doing this well, there will be no choice in the end. It will become what consumers expect. Do or die for businesses!

Here’s what I recommend you need to think about…….

10 tips to keep them coming back:

  1. Be YOU. People want authentic – customers will spot bullsh*t a mile off.
  2. Get in the right mindset. Care about your customers and about the service you provide to them, no matter what is going on for you.
  3. Map the whole journey a customer might take with you (including before you know who they are) and do exactly what you promise you say you will. Just doing exactly what we promised can be a win-win situation. Imagine the possibilities if you can exceed expectations.
  4. Provide something useful/helpful/interesting for them – think about what they need, want, have to solve, and try and be a solution.
  5. Own it. It’s all your fault. Even if it was your employee that did the wrong deed. You didn’t train them properly, or you hired the wrong person. Tough, but in the eyes of the customer none of that matters to them.
  6. Gain testimonials and/or press coverage to help build credibility. Ask for feedback to understand what you can hone and improve.
  7. Act quickly. If you can’t, get in touch and explain when what and why.
  8. Keep in touch. It’s not your customers’ responsibility to remember to do business with you. Let them know about what’s coming up, special offers, loyalty schemes. Provide more value to help them.
  9. Demonstrate your values. Display and explain them if relevant. Be charitable and the reasons behind your choices.
  10. Be energetic, can-do – say YES.
A group of people at a hen party
I don’t just cover mine in chocolate, but it helps!

If you want to get a head start in the customer service stakes adding chocolate into the mix is a great idea. If you want some more, try my 100 Ways to WOW.

What I learned from saying YES

What I learned from saying YES

Not long along I gave you 5 reasons to say NO, and here I am encouraging you to say YES!

Confusing, maybe? The thing is both are valid, and it will be about building confidence in your decision-making.  

Firstly, having a clear ‘why’ will matter the most, as that helps you decide if it’s worth your time or effort. Are you someone who gets a gut feeling about things? If you are, trust yourself and act accordingly. Sleep on something rather than make a snap decision and see what comes up the next day. Write out a list of pros and cons and make a proper evaluation.

Sometimes you just need to have a go – here’s what I learned from saying YES:

Grow your Confidence

I can't written on a piece of paper with someone cutting off the 't to read I can.

An opportunity presents itself and you immediately say no. That’s it, opportunity over, do you ever examine why that was your response?  

Are you scared of change?  

Do you find it easier to stay within what you know, and prefer never to challenge yourself?  

Many of us do prefer to play safe but say YES once in a while and you will be forced out of your comfort zone. We all know that’s where the magic really happens. 

In a toilet in a bar in Shoreditch the wallpaper read “your comfort zone will kill you” and while that’s a bit dramatic, there’s a lot of truth in that. You will find it does amazing things for your confidence in the end.

Hidden Opportunities

Once upon a time, there was a blog about sheds. I tweeted the guy responsible and told him I made chocolates in my shed, so what was the most interesting thing he’d discovered people doing in their sheds? He said I was pretty interesting and did I want to be featured on his blog. Yes please, I said!

Large shed in the garden with the double doors open

 A few weeks later I was contacted by The Sun newspaper and formed part of an article on what business people did in their sheds (they had seen my feature on the Shed Blog). Some months after that I was contacted by The Independent on Sunday and had a full-page feature on my shed for a gardening article.  

I also won an iPad for a social media competition using this story and of course gained credibility and awareness for my business.  

You will find a way

Someone makes a proposal to you. At the time of speaking to them, you don’t know how you are going to deliver what they are asking of you. If the answer is no, it’s job done, no further thought is required. Say yes and then your brain needs to work out a way.

It may be you need to have a conversation with someone who does know a way. They may be able to help, or certainly point you to where to find out more. A bit of research is undertaken. Sometimes it’s as simple and sleeping on it and in the morning you have a solution! Once you have said yes to something then you will find a solution – even if it’s not quite what was asked for in the first place!

New Possibilities

People at the forge.  Once hammering on an anvil and one in the fire on a team day experience

You simply can’t think of everything, even if you thought you have covered off all bases in whatever context that might be. I guarantee someone will ask you something that you had not considered. Is that a better option for you? Might it be something worth exploring further, a new avenue or offering?

When I started my chocolate business, I always intended to offer workshops to adults and children

I still do that to this day, but my events have evolved so much over the years. I’ve added in workshops specific to hens, schools, teams, customer service, running a business, and collaborations with my blacksmith hubby. Usually, because I’ve been asked by a customer to deliver a specific theme.   

Shiny new object syndrome is a real thing – you can end up going down the wrong path from time to time, but being open to explore new possibilities is worth consideration at least.

Good Vibes

Being willing to consider ideas, saying yes to opportunities creates a can-do positive attitude to life in general. I think that’s a really good thing.

What are you going to say YES to? Come and tell us your story.

5 reasons to play tennis

5 reasons to play tennis

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will have heard of the amazing achievements of a young 18-year-old tennis player that just won the US Open Tennis Tournament.  

Tennis ball spinning with water

She had to win three rounds of qualifying matches before being able to play in the main draw. Ranked 150 in the world on arrival (having been ranked in the 300’s only weeks beforehand).

No one who came through qualifying has won a grand slam tournament EVER.

What a belief, what a story, it truly is the fairy tale of New York! Emma Radacanu we salute you.

Yours truly has been playing tennis for years, not particularly well, but regardless – I love it. 

If Emma might have inspired you to pick up a racket here are 5 reasons to play tennis:

It’s sociable

You can’t play tennis on your own. Well, you can hit a ball against a wall for a bit, but you need at least one opponent eventually. If you are a bit of an old bird like me, then doubles it is!   

You are needed to form part of the quartet, so once you’ve committed to play you need to show up or you let everyone down.

A post-match coffee and catch-up are great too!

It’s exercise that never feels like exercise

Tennis balls all gathering at the base of a tennis net with racket leaning on net

That’s my experience of tennis. I’m not a fan of gyms or running and tennis is something I love that never feels like exercise at all.  

Warming up with a series of stretches first is a must. You don’t want to injure or damage muscles. 

Once in play, you are running around after the ball. Increasing your heart rate and using your arms and legs in equal measure. Hopefully, you are winning some points along the way.

Professional tennis players have a great all-round physique. Good muscle tone, with no over-emphasis on any part of the body. At their level, they wear out and have injuries of course, but plenty of members of my tennis club are still playing into their 80’s!

Play regularly and get better

Admittedly some tennis clubs can be expensive to join or feel a little cliquey. There are friendly options and different price ranges out there, as well as plenty of free courts around too. You need to find what works for you and your budget.

I find a commitment to pay my monthly membership fee motivates me to play multiple times a week to ensure I get value for money.

Whether you are brand new and joining a beginners class, or you have been playing for years but want to get better? There is always a chance to improve your game through regular play.

You may wish to focus on a better serve, volley more and spend more time at the net, improve your hitting with drills. Improving your game will motivate you to carry on.

Challenge yourself

Tennis racket and ball on the floor by the lines of a clay court

Once you’ve mastered the basics, sign up for leagues or play in friendly matches.  

This can feel very daunting, especially if you are worried you are the worst player on the court. I think everyone can feel this at times, but you need to push yourself and have the confidence to have a go. If you are new to matches, other players are usually supportive and helpful and will give you good feedback if you ask.

Some seek a more competitive group as this suits their needs, others wish to join something more fun and friendly. If it’s not quite right for you, try something else, don’t just give up.  

There is nothing like the experience of playing different players to improve your own game.

Challenge yourself to get out of that comfort zone and try playing different people. It’s amazing how much good it makes you feel once achieved.

Become a tennis bore

Talk about your achievements and good shots on the court with those that are interested! It’s great to meet with like-minded people to chat about your tennis experiences.  

Whether you are discussing your latest match or waxing lyrical about the future of Emma Raducanu – you are allowed to be a tennis bore and enjoy every moment!

AND surely the more you play the more chocolate you are allowed? That’s my theory anyway!

Anyone for tennis?  

A new sport could be just the thing if you are recently experiencing empty nest syndrome?  

If you love 5 things – previous blogs have included working with chocolate, businesses you could start tomorrow, must-do’s in Mull – more to come soon……..

How to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

How to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

It’s that time of year when young ones are stretching their wings and preparing to move on.

They may be starting school for the first time, moving onto ‘big’ school, or indeed leaving home to start Uni, college, or even a real job!

Whatever the reason, it’s hard for us to adapt to these big changes and see them growing up too fast. 

Here’s how I tried to deal with empty nest syndrome (I hope they might help you too):

Acknowledge your feelings

three faces with happy, neutral and sad, with tick boxes beside

Accept that you can’t make Empty Nest Syndrome go away. These feelings are valid and real.  

You have spent years nurturing, supporting, cooking, cleaning, and clearing up after your little angels and now they don’t need you in the same way anymore. That is a huge adjustment to make for starters.  

I felt really bereft when my eldest first left home for Uni, and I kept laying the dinner table for all five of us before realising he wasn’t here and getting upset (again). My other kids laughed at me and told me to a grip. 

The joys of family banter!

Give yourself permission to be sad, tearful, thoughtful, reflective. Make some time and be kind to yourself. Whatever you are experiencing is not going to last forever.

Do something new  

Tennis ball

There should be a little more space in your life with your responsibilities shifting. What might you decide to do?  

Is there a hobby or craft that you have neglected for too long?  

Perhaps there is a new skill or experience you would like to try?

What about taking up a new sport or joining a club to play a sport that’s been neglected for a while?

Start baking or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Chocolate always helps – here’s some inspiration.

Take on a challenge

There are many opportunities to join challenges. They might relate to health, fitness, personal growth, or mindset. You might decide to support a charity and take part in an organised event.  

Magic wand

I offer a free 6-day challenge called Creating Magic – where you focus on you for a change and find out how to bring some sparkle into your life.

Think about starting your own business. This can be something on the side, earning from a hobby or craft, or something more serious. Having my own business to focus on during these times has been genuinely helpful. Being my own boss also means if I’m struggling and need time out, I can take it.

This is the ultimate for a great challenge and distraction!  

Plan your trip

A pile of recently washed up dishes and other kitchen utensils

This is just for you with the older ones, heading away from home. Obviously, they need some time to settle in, but get a date in the diary when you can visit and take them out for dinner, buy a huge food shop, do the heaving pile of washing up and a huge load of washing for them!

It really helps to have visits planned. We have really enjoyed exploring new locations in the UK as part of this process.

It’s good to talk

A cuppa or a glass of wine with friends and family is definitely a help. They may be experiencing similar feelings to you if they have children of the same age. Don’t forget to reflect on the opportunities and achievements of your children. They will have worked hard to achieve a place at Uni in really difficult circumstances. Maybe heading to a new school without all the usual visits and reassurances.  

Here’s to our kids and their super resilience – they are amazing!

I once met a lady at a craft fair, she had gone out and bought a job lot of scarves, so she could spend her evenings selling them and not sitting at home sad that her children had left. She told me that it felt like her arm had been cut off. I think I can totally relate to that. You do feel like something is missing. When they come and go, you experience that time and again, but it does get a little easier and if they are happy, then you are allowed to be too.

If you have some top tips to add, please pop over to my Facebook page to share.

Best of luck.

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss – and how to overcome them

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss – and how to overcome them

How are you?  

We’ve been through (and are still going through) a bit of an ordeal. There has never been such an opportunity to really examine our lives and decide what is most important to us going forward.

Are you happy to return to life roughly as it was before, or have our recent experiences made you think about a change, especially in the way that you work?  

You may have been forced into a different work situation, lost your job, and would love to consider running your own thing.

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss:

 1. Fear 

2. Lack of confidence 

3. Lack of financial security

4. Competition (someone else already does it, and likely better than I could)

5. Lack of business know-how

6. Change of personal identity (fear of success)

And here’s how you might overcome them:

Overcoming Fear

Someone cutting a piece of paper with I can't written on it, to make I can

Everyone feels fear when they decide on a life change, will you let fear define you, keep you small and safe, or are you willing to live with an element of fear while you step up and say yes?

Standing up and saying out loud – buy this thing from me is daunting and scary and feels too difficult.

You just have to take a leap of faith. 

Try something smaller at first. Think up something you feel a bit scared of doing or trying and do it. Notice what happens afterwards. How bad was it really? Do you now feel a sense of achievement? Even if it didn’t achieve what you hoped, you faced a fear and stepped up?  

Building Confidence

The only way we can ever build our confidence is to stretch our comfort zone. If what you are doing now is not serving you, then you need to change the routine, try something new or different and get a little uncomfortable.

A test I use is TV. I may have been super-busy for a period, really stretching and growing and I need a bit of downtime. I’ll allow a bit of trash TV, late afternoon quizzes, etc, and will switch on to watch around 4/5 pm. At first, it’s a bit of a treat, to chill and take my foot off the pedal. Then I notice I start to get bored and twitchy. 

That’s when I know it’s time to step up again and get creative or do something more productive or I will start to lose confidence.  If tackling this alone feels too hard, check out my building confidence programme

9 points in round blue circles to help you boost your confidence

Financial Security

Do you have financial security with your job? Is your job safe? 

Have you considered that you might be able to do both – keep your job and build a small business on the side?

Can you ask for reduced hours at work, a part-time contract so that you can have some financial security while you build your business? 

Sometimes we have to believe that anything is possible to free us enough to get creative and dare to explore our business ideas.  

Putting a huge financial strain on your new business is always going to affect how you perform. Try and get creative with your finances and think about possible ways to support your new venture (taking in a lodger, creating and space to let in your home via AirB&B, a part-time job on the side).

Competition

How many independent coffee shops do you have near you? 

They didn’t let the fear of competition stop them from getting started, they understood that there was a market for what they had to offer and jumped on the bandwagon. 

You choose to support the ones you like the best, your friend you meet in the coffee shop may have a different favourite to you, so you meet there sometimes too. People choose to buy from you because of the same reasons you choose to buy from others. There is something about what they have to offer that appeals to you, the ambiance, the vibe. 

Once you build a following, you build a reputation through offering the best possible customer experiences and you gain word-of-mouth recommendations. In other words, people buy YOU and there is no one else out there that does you.

Lack of Business Know-How

Say you’ve been in nursing or teaching all your life and you tell yourself that you don’t know the first thing about business, so you’ve dismissed running your own. 

Hello! Your life experiences are totally transferable. The juggling, management, caring, and creativity are all fabulous assets for a business. 

It’s the fear of what we don’t know that can make something feel insurmountable. This does not have to be true. It’s just a story we tell ourselves (and why you might invest in training to learn the bits you don’t know and fill in the gaps). 

Fear of Success

I did a poll not that long ago asking people if fear of failure or a fear of success would be the biggest factor for them. Fear of success came out as the more scary option. 

Do we find that surprising? Think about yourself and your role in your family/society. 

Everyone you know has put you in a pigeon-hole of some sort. It may be related to the work you do, your position in the family, etc. If you suddenly say you are going to do this or train to become that – those close to you can struggle. They may experience fear of losing you, you changing, not having time for them perhaps.  

You do this too. We have our version of ourselves and believe we need to stay that way to fit in with what we know, what others expect from us.

Are you willing and able to be successful? Do you deserve to turn your new business idea into something credible and enjoyable? 

What about the service or products you offer? Do your customers deserve to interact with a business that is going places and future-proof to look after their needs. 

Help Yourself

As you can see most of the fears/worries we will encounter require us to shift our mindset and dare to try what might be possible.  

We only have this one life, you decide.

Procrastination, overwhelm and fear will come along for the ride. I run a free Creating Magic Challenge where we can explore what might be possible. Pop over to Facebook and find out more.


These might help – what business is right for you, 5 business ideas to start tomorrow.

How to taste chocolate

How to taste chocolate

We are not talking about your everyday chocolate treats here. The taste of these is familiar to us and we tend to shove it all in without thinking too much!

How to taste chocolate properly, like a professional connoisseur is what we are going for here:

What chocolate?

It will likely be dark chocolate. There are many ‘notes’ to chocolate. It is a wonderful ingredient that can produce many flavour experiences such as nutty or fruity.

chunks of white and dark chocolate on a board with a wooden spoon filled with grated chocolate

There are, however, some fabulous examples of milk and white chocolate too at the gourmet end.

Don’t think just in terms of cocoa content. Quality is not necessarily about the cocoa content, but about the quality of the bean. Some dark chocolates have been highly roasted to disguise a poorer quality bean.

Raw chocolate has unroasted or very lightly roasted beans to really showcase the bean’s properties. There are some interesting (and slightly more challenging) options to try, depending on your taste.

Be prepared to pay a lot more for your gourmet chocolate bars.

Where do I go for gourmet?

Visit a posh chocolate shop and they should be knowledgeable about what they are selling and help you choose according to your taste.

High-end chocolate shops will often offer tasting sessions. These are well worth it, as you can try a few and find out what chocolate you enjoy the most.

A good supermarket will also have a decent amount of quality chocolate bars on offer too.

There are good online retailers such as Cocoa Runners. They offer a tasting club and have a fantastic array of chocolate bars on offer. When I’m running a gourmet tasting, these are my go-to suppliers.

Chocolate Guru

I’m going to share the wise words of a chocolate guru – Chloe Doutre-Roussel. The chocolate buyer for Fortnum and Mason’s for a number of years. Doutre-Roussel is highly regarded in the chocolate world. I believe she is around a size 6 and used to taste her way through a 1lb of chocolate every day. She would get up early, swim, and drink only water until her tasting was completed. Nothing was allowed to taint her tastebuds and ruin the full effect of the chocolate.

Here’s how to taste chocolate
(taken from The Chocolate Connoisseur- By Chloe Doutre-Roussel)

When presented with a square of chocolate:

  1. Look at it: what do you see? Colour? Shine? Texture? Blooming or discolouration?
  2. Touch it: what do you feel? How does the broken surface look: smooth or rough and bubbly? Sticky?
  3. Listen to it: what do you hear as you snap a square in half?
  4. Smell it: what do you find?
  5. Taste it: put a tiny piece in your mouth, chew it, then stop and allow it to melt.
  6. Concentrate on how you feel, and if there is any change in flavour of what your tongue feels over time.
  7. Look for flavours:
    • do you recognise them?
    • perhaps they evolve over time?
    • interact with each other, or do they seem to come in separate phases?
      is one more present and clear than the others, or do they combine?
    • rate their intensity.
  8. Good chocolate has three distinct phases. Try to distinguish them:
    • what you feel in the first seconds
    • what you feel while it slowly melts
    • now swallow, what you feel now. This phase is called the ‘end of mouth’.

The Finish

chocolate making

Like many, I only used to eat the cheapo chocolate that we find everywhere. Since I made chocolate my business, I’ve learned to really appreciate the finer chocolates out there. I find the everyday chocolate a little too sweet these days. I still enjoy a naughty treat now and again, but prefer the better quality stuff. It has so much more to it.

I want you to notice the finish – when you enjoy good dark chocolate, the flavour will stay in your mouth so much longer. We want a nice long finish!

Come us tell us what good chocolate you have been tasting over on my Facebook page.

Imagine if tasting chocolate was part of your business. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

5 Must Do’s in Mull

5 Must Do’s in Mull

I’ve just returned from a holiday on the Isle of Mull* in Scotland with family and friends.

View of loch and mountains on Mull, Scotland

It was one of the best holidays we have enjoyed together for ages. After being delayed by a year, due to the pandemic we were all really up for an adventure and Mull did not disappoint.

Here are my 5 must do’s in Mull:

Stay in a fabulous location

To be honest, this is not difficult on Mull. Everywhere is so beautiful, with stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife, and exceptional beaches.

You have the option to be completely off the beaten track (our preferred choice), or to stay somewhere where you can eat out or visit the odd shop (in and around Tobermory).

We were armed with anti-midge bracelets, spray, cream, and nets are we received dire warnings of non-stop rain and midges. In reality, we had great weather and I’ve seen more midges on my local dog walks in Hertfordshire than I ever experienced on Mull!  

View of Loch Usig and hills from Craig Ben Cottage, Isle of Mull
View from our bedroom window of Loch Uisg

That may influence when you wish to visit. We were incredibly lucky with our good weather, as the area has a very high rainfall rate. The good weather must have kept the midges at bay. Win, win!

Our accommodation was booked through Isle of Mull Cottages and was fab.

Book a wildlife tour

Mull is all about the wildlife.  

A friend recommended Nature Scotland’s Wilderness Tour to us, so we booked a day out and it is such a worthwhile thing to do. As well as spotting some white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, and red deer, we were fascinated by the smaller natural details too. 

Burrowing wasps, tiny carnivorous plants, butterflies and so much more.

Not only do you learn so much on the tour, but you will also then be tuned into seeing things for the rest of your stay.

On our travels around the island, we also managed to see many more birds, otters, and even some dolphins from the ferry on the way home.

It’s great to invest in a decent pair of binoculars, they will be well used!

Don your walking boots

You may wish to climb a mountain, Mull has one official Munro (mountain), Ben More, but many other wonderful climbing options too.   

If you take a drive to Fionnphort you can grab a foot ferry to Iona. It is only 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Iona is known as being ‘The Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland with its much-visited Abbey and Nunnery. 

Wonderful walks and beaches are on offer here too.

Maybe ditching your walking boots at this point, you can wander along a deserted beach. We had a beach to ourselves at one point, but even if others are there too, it will never be busy.  

Laggan Sands beach on the Isle of Mull
Laggan Sands, our local beach

Most of us went swimming too. Our holiday cottage was based next to a freshwater loch. I enjoy a bit of wild swimming and presumed this would be a challenging option due to the coldness of the water. It was one of the warmest wild swims I’d ever enjoyed!

The sea loch was a little more bracing (we went swimming from Laggan Sands), but still manageable and refreshing!

Enjoy some seafood

There was a mussel farm not too far from our house. It is operated by an honesty box, so if you got the urge to eat mussels at any point, you could drive up, pop your pennies in and grab your mussels to munch. They were the freshest, sweetest, tasty morsels!

Dishes and plates of mussels on the table

We also managed to order some langoustines, which we got straight from the boat as they were landed. 

I can honestly say I would prefer a chef to prepare them for me. However, it was down to us, and once prepped we popped ours on the bbq. They tasted wonderful, so sweet again and obviously as fresh as it’s possible to be.

In Tobermory, we enjoyed some fish and chips on the harbour. We actually saw the fish being delivered to the café, just a bit before we ordered. 

Totally delicious. There is a real fresh theme here!

We didn’t manage to eat out at any restaurants – they were a bit too far of a drive from us.  

We did enjoy some lovely cakes (and wonderful farm shop meats) from a local cafe.  

Take what you need with you

There are a couple of small local shops on the island – and a small supermarket in Tobermory. As we were an hour’s drive from there, we needed to take all the food and drink that we needed for our week’s holiday.

Talking of driving, the roads are an experience in their own right. Singletrack roads mostly with passing places – sometimes it could be quite challenging depending on who you met coming the other way!

Tobermory

It’s quite a feat doing a shopping list for a large household of hungry people. All the meals and snacks required. How many bottles of wine or gin and tonics are you going to need? 

All important questions. Allow plenty of planning time.

I would not wish to put you off supporting local businesses as this is a must, but you will not be able to do a giant shop – so make sure you bring a decent general shop at least.

There are some cafes, hotels, and the odd pub here and there – but we were surprised how little was on offer. This is a little different in Tobermory with several eateries and gift shops on offer too here.

I even found a chocolate shop in Tobermory and have bought home some dark chocolate whiskey squares to try!  

You may wish to take some chocolate with you or make your own treats.

I’m sure this would not be a holiday that would suit everyone – but if you do fancy a trip, I hope my 5 must do’s in Mull will provide some inspiration.  

Come and tell me your tips over on my Facebook page.

*The Isle of Mull or just Mull is the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides and lies off the west coast of Scotland in the council area of Argyll and Bute. Covering 875.35 square kilometres, Mull is the fourth-largest island in Scotland – and also in the United Kingdom as a whole. (Wikipedia)

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

Want to start your own business, but still struggling with a good idea?  I’ve compiled 5 simple business ideas that you could get started on straight away.

Each of these ideas is something I’ve popped on a list to consider, or I’ve heard about being a success from others.

Here are my 5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow:

Gin Tours

Two balloon glases and one tall glass each with gin and tonic, ice, lemon and lime

In my local town, there are ghost walks and history tours. I thought a gin tour would be a fab little one to add to the mix. There are plenty of distillery visits on offer, but I didn’t notice any specific tours (although I’m sure some of you will have been on something of this type!).

Speak to some local hostelries and see who would be up for a visit from a group of gin enthusiasts.  (That would at least cover off the licensing laws).  

If you wish to investigate getting licensed yourself so you could serve up the gins in different locations, speak to your local authority and see what’s involved.

Learn the history of gin (mother’s ruin?), brush up on your gin facts and intersperse these throughout your tour.  

Discover what’s produced locally and showcase some local gins, and well as some of your favourites or some wacky new flavour combos.  

Wander around with your group, drinking the odd gin, and having some fun!  

You may need to stick to tonics if it takes off, as I wouldn’t recommend several gins a day as a healthy option, hic!

Treasure Hunts in your local town

These are already in existence, but you could add in your own twists.

A group of people in a huddle on the street each wearing a deerstalker hat

What are your favourite spots in town?

What historic landmarks can you incorporate?

Are there some fascinating history or legends to weave into the game?  

Why not make it child or family-friendly?

Sell packs online or deliver hunts in person.  

Have package options – a short one, a medium one, and a more challenging one. You can charge accordingly. You could add food or drink options and picnics into the mix to maximise your profits or collaborate with other local establishments in your town. People love a package.

Handy Pandy

A younger person's hand over an older person's hand in care/support

So many people need help and support for those odd jobs, running errands, picking up stuff, a bit of good company, and generally you being their handy pandy.

Print some leaflets, pop them through doors, ask friends to tell friends about your services. Do the best you can for each client and watch the word-of-mouth recommendations flow in.

I bet you will be too busy before too long.

You might need to learn quite quickly when to say no.

Book a market stall

Sell something you’ve made.

Piles of pottery small plates in different patterns

If it’s food-related, you will need to register with your local authority and get a number to trade legally. Don’t forget your basics like food hygiene, insurance, etc.

If it’s craft-related and sales are going well, why not consider setting up some workshops teaching others how to do what you do?

Or simply buy stuff and sell it online (Esty, Not on the High Street, eBay etc) or on your market stall.

It can just be a hobby, something you do for fun that earns a few pennies on the side.

It might just turn into something else.

 Run chocolate workshops

 I had to include this one as I have a business opportunity where you can do exactly what I do where you live. 

Two people making chocolates

I’ve created a huge manual of procedures (you don’t have to remember everything). There is a comprehensive training course that includes how to work with chocolate and all the business elements too. Finally, there is ongoing support and encouragement on hand while you navigate your launch and beyond.

It’s a business in a chocolate box – who wouldn’t want to work with chocolate?

If this has made you think I want to do one of the above, but you don’t quite trust yourself to make it happen, I can hold your hand, badger you, convince you when you wobble and generally be a good thorn in your side to get your idea off the ground. Check out my New Dawn programme and see it if might suit you.

What business is right for you?

What business is right for you?

Many people are coming out of the pandemic ready to make a big change, and some of them are looking at starting their own business as an option.

Time for change written in chalk on a blackboard

I’d love to be my own boss, but I don’t know what to do” I so often hear you say!

Let’s explore what business is right for you:

What do you need to stop?

Something is driving your decision to seek to work on your terms.  

Grab a pen and paper or fire up the laptop and sit and write out a list of everything that drives you nuts about what you do now. Work out why you are getting disgruntled and fed up with your current situation.

It doesn’t have to be work-related. Maybe it’s about the lack of flexibility to explore hobbies or be more creative. 

Could it be related to family and wanting more time with loved ones?

Are you unfilled? 

Losing confidence in your abilities? 

Know it’s not the place for you to be anymore?

When does time cease to exist?

Go to that happy place. 

The moments when time hardly exists, you are so absorbed in, and enjoying what you are doing.

Who are the people you are spending time with? How are you interacting with them? What tasks do you manage to complete with great satisfaction? Which hobbies or special interests do you do that fill you with joy or a sense of satisfaction?

What are they, when are they? Write them down and think about exactly what it is you are doing when you are loving the moment.

If you are not sure, keep a diary for a while and identify those things you like to do. Notice those moments and make a note of them.

You dared to dream

Let’s cast your mind back to those days when the world felt like your oyster, you had ideas and ambitions and you always dreamed you would………..

Now fill in the blank.

What jobs/careers/people inspired you and made you want to grow up to be like them?

Add all the jobs/roles/people/industries you ever dreamed of working in.

What have you learned?

Since those early days, you have followed a path, chosen a career, or experienced various roles. You may have also raised a family, been a supporter, carer, played sports, entertained family and friends.

How many skills do you bring to the table?

What do your friends always say you are good at?

Why do they come to you, what advice do they seek?

Write a list of everything you have done and can do and add this to your notes too.

What do you believe?

I’d love to do something but:

  • someone already does it
  • it’s been done before
  • I don’t think it has legs
  • no one would buy that would they
  • I’m a bit too scared
Hugh Laurie quote

How many excuses can you think up to convince yourself not to try a business venture?

What if you dare to try?

Write a simple plan or what you are going to do, how and when, and stick to it. Give it a go and see what happens. You don’t have to leave the day job.

Here are some surprising things you learn about yourself from running your own business.

Imagine it starts to become a success. It may enable you to leave a job you don’t enjoy anymore and focus on doing more of what you do.

When you do decide, let us know what it is and how we can buy it from you.

Still stuck? Here are some great reasons to consider chocolate? These other ideas might also provide some inspiration.

Good luck.

5 reasons you need to say NO

5 reasons you need to say NO

You have started a business. 

Keen to not miss any opportunity, you are agreeing to all sorts of things.  

Here are 5 reasons you need to say NO to make your business a success:

Your time is valuable

Value yourself and your time.  

Lots of stopwatches in a pile in different pastels shades

You will never get a day back again and nothing is as priceless as your time.  

We often waste time and energy on something that doesn’t work out. Learn and move on. Don’t beat yourself up for time wasted but do take the lessons from what you don’t wish to repeat!

Set Boundaries

Set regular time in your diary for growing and developing your business and honour this as if it was the most important event EVER.  

Family and friends do not always appreciate how disciplined we need to be working for ourselves and may think you are available. It’s your job to educate them as to when you are free and when you cannot be disturbed (except in a real emergency).

Some people are just time vampires. Make sure you set boundaries with them and personally. Stick to them.  

Set start and end times for meetings, let the other person know how long they have with you.

Be a good time-keeper, so you are not on the back foot apologising for being late and allowing this to blur boundaries.

Stick to your principles

Why did you start your business?

If you went through my start-up training this is the first module we cover. Without knowing your why, it’s difficult to plot your path, keep to your long-term strategy.

It’s never just about the money. The money is a lovely bonus, but you didn’t start what you are doing just for money. 

There were other reasons involved.

Take a moment to remind yourself of what you want to achieve, and where you want to go.

Are you allowing someone or something to dictate the direction of your business?  Do you need to say no to someone or something, so you stay true to your path?

It’s your choice

You get to choose. 

One of the most wonderful things about running your own business is you get to do things the way you want to.

I work Monday to Saturday but in a flexible manner. Except in exceptional circumstances, I don’t work on a Sunday, as that is my family time. 

During the week, I take time out to do things like play tennis or meet with friends. It’s not full-time Monday to Saturday, it’s when I want to work, factoring in what works for my customers too of course (like a weekend option). Some years ago I stopped offering evening workshops as they made me too tired. I want balance in my life.

You choose when you say no.

Look after yourself

Most importantly, take some time for yourself.  

Flowers

If you need to re-charge it’s so important that you allow some time each week doing those things you love. Exercise, nature, good food and hydration, sleep, quiet time. Whatever it takes – make sure you say no to those things that stop you from looking after yourself.

It’s empowering to say NO. You may find it a little worrying or difficult initially. If you focus on what you want to achieve and stick to your guns, you will find the decision process becomes more obvious.

Until you need to say YES!

How to work in some WOW

How to work in some WOW

As a small business owner, you are in a unique position to create some wonderful customer experiences in your business.

Quotation about customer service from Maya Angelou

Make it a top priority, it will reap rewards. 

Here’s how to work in some WOW for your customers:

The J word!

Yes, your customers are embarking on a journey with you.

This experience starts before you know they are looking at you. 

Your business personality, via your website and social media platforms, is providing an impression of you and your services/product.  

Have you created the right impression to attract your ideal clients?

Is the journey to purchase something clear, correct, and delivers exactly what is promised?

Not everyone is ready to buy right now.

How can you ensure you encourage further interaction?

Create a strong business personality

Be you. You may be providing or selling something that many others do too, but no one else is you, so you will bring something unique to the interaction.

People see through fake and quite frankly, we have had enough of that sort of thing – be authentic and customers will love you for it.

Feel the fear often. If you are sharing a story or posting something that brings a little fear into your being, then you are most likely hitting the right note. We are programmed to be reserved, especially in a business setting, but bring your whole self and your customers will feel they have got to know the real person behind the brand.

Keep in Touch

Provide some useful information.  

Write a blog!  

Send out a fact sheet or relevant information that would prove useful for your customers.

Invite them to subscribe to a newsletter – then regularly write to them.

Not everyone is ready to buy when they first meet your business. They may be ready to buy some months down the line.

Keeping in touch provides an opportunity to strengthen a relationship with a potential customer. It may also provide an opportunity for previous customers to buy again.

Be Disciplined

Post regularly on social media channels.

 Deliver the newsletter when you said you would.

Respond quickly to enquiries.

ALWAYS do what you said you would, or explain why you can’t.

Gain Feedback

Ask what people liked and didn’t like about working with you.

Listen to what is being said.

Hone and improve where you think it’s necessary.

Talk about what you have learned, inform clients of changes you are going to make.

Get the basics right

You can provide fancy gifts and make grand gestures as much as you like. If you are not providing exactly what you said on the tin in the first place, then this will fall very flat.

Review the whole journey a customer will experience with your business and ensure that everything works properly.

If you employ staff, make sure you train them properly and empower them to be able to make the right decisions.

The right mindset

As soon as we mention customer service, you start to be bombarded with examples of disasters and sob stories. They might be amusing, or we may learn a lesson or two – but this is not the right mindset for creating some WOW.

Let’s give examples of how a company turned a disaster into a success. Let’s get thinking positively. Most importantly, let’s try and get in the mindset of our customers and focus on their needs and what would make them happy.

A wonderful opportunity

Here’s the great news. You only have to do exactly what you say you will do to win some brownie points from your customers.

Then, and only then can you start to add in some WOW. 

These are little extras that make you stand out from the crowd.

I recently came back from a camping trip. Each night the owner would drive around and deliver giant marshmallows on sticks for the guests to toast on their firepits. She did it with such joy and enthusiasm, we all looked forward to the marshmallow run each evening. Inexpensive, a bit of fun, but a huge tick in the WOW department.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the holy grail of marketing. Nothing says buy from this company than a friend talking about a great experience.

Here are 100 Ways to WOW that you might find useful!

Chocolate Works Wonders

Heart drawn in chocolate

Add a little chocolate into the mix and you have a wonderful recipe for success.

My Getting Sticky Customers workshop works with teams and business owners wishing to focus their efforts on customer experience and of course, includes chocolate.

“Having time out from everyday work to focus on what we do and why we do it was amazing! The session has reinvigorated my desire to help and wow customers and to make a difference to someone’s day. Dawn is excellent at making you think about things in a different way – lots of light bulb moments for me!”  Sarah Henson, delegate, Solihull

What customer experiences have been positive for you – come and share your story on my Facebook page.

Or maybe this has inspired you to start your own business because you know you’d be brilliant at creating some WOW moments for your customers? Why not give us the opportunity!

7 reasons to try camping

7 reasons to try camping

We love a bit of camping in our family and have travelled all over Europe with our trusty tent.

Two tents, one small, one large with awning.

It was one of the main reasons I started my business.  

I wanted to be able to take the summer holidays off and enjoy them with the children. Camping was an affordable and fun activity that made this possible. We didn’t quite achieve the whole six weeks in our tent, we did have regular three or four-week holidays to wonderful locations. It has created some fab family memories.  

We still love camping!

Here are 7 reasons to try camping (and some of my fav campsites):

You can enjoy nature at it’s best

The top of the list has to be the campsite setting. You are in nature. It’s totally good for you to experience living outside. Enjoying a slower pace of life in wonderful surroundings with all that fresh air. Even if it’s raining, you can sit inside listening to the rain on the tent, playing cards, or reading your book.  

Sunset over sea, with tent in the foreground
Photo courtesy of Troytown campsite

Sunrise, sunsets, watching the wildlife – what’s not to love about that? 

Favourite spot for a glorious sunset – St Agnes, Isle of Scilly – Troytown Campsite.

It’s affordable

Admittedly you need to get your kit together and this can be a bit of an investment at the outset. We opted for a huge tent to accommodate our family of five. We each had a bedroom (more than we had at home at the time) and a huge living space for those rainy moments.

It has given us 10 years of fun and memories (so far) so it was well worth it.

You can stay in wonderful locations, for a fraction of the cost of a holiday rental. The shores of Lake Garda, the mountains in Austria, stunning beaches in Spain!

View of lake, boats and mountains

The best value campsite in a wonderful setting goes to Camping Le Brec in Entrevaux (South of France). 

A natural lake, with a cool bar, swimming, free boats, mountains all around and very reasonably priced!

It’s worth the extra effort

Now, all that wonderfulness comes at the cost of a little more effort.

You need to plan where and when you want to go. In normal times, I will spend January pouring through books and choosing my favourite campsites. Then it’s plotting a route, trying to take in all those things we want to visit/see/do.

Getting all your ‘stuff’ together takes some effort too.

We have boxes of kit stored in our shed now, so we just take it out, give it a quick check, and pop it in the car.

A checklist is a great idea.

We swear by the people that are behind Cool Camping. Such accurate descriptions of sites, really well-researched, in great locations. There are helpful descriptions of the vibe and energy of the site included too. Something for everyone either on their website or in their guide books (I use both).

Although there are lots of more expensive Glamping sites covered now, you can still find affordable gems!

Best books/website:  Cool Camping

Enjoy the community spirit

A friend once quoted a wonderful line:

“If everyone could camp together, the world would be a better place.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

There is such a friendly, community spirit on a campsite. People wandering by, stopping for a chat. Sharing bathroom facilities and chatting while brushing your teeth (that takes some practice!)

We got chatting to a family on one campsite and he was a real gin enthusiast. He revealed his extensive gin bar and send us some samples over one evening. It was just like visiting the cocktail bar, with nice glasses, ice, and all the trimmings!

Most campsites will organise some activities like volleyball, boules, pizza nights, etc. It’s fun and friendly and you can mix in as much or as little as you want.

two marshmallows on sticks in front of a firepit

Camping is a real leveller. 

Everyone is the same and that’s just great.

Most friendly campsite: 

Parke Farm Campsite, Pembrokeshire (free tea/coffee and marshmallows delivered each night)  

The world is your oyster

You pack up the car, and you take off and you can go wherever you are willing and able to drive to.

We’ve visited sites in the UK, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain. When you drive to your destination you get a sense of your bearings, the accessibility of other countries and cultures.  When you jump on a plane and arrive at your destination, you just don’t get the same sense of where you are in the world.

We add the odd hotel stop en route for the longer journeys. You appreciate the luxury of your hotel room for the odd night here and there. We love a quirky hotel stop and try and avoid chains where possible.

Saying that some of the campsites we have stayed in have bathrooms posher than most hotels.

The prize for this has to go to a wonderful site in Austria, Grubhof. The gorgeous site is surrounded by mountains (lift passes up to explore the mountains are free) and with stylish, private bathrooms included too.

Campfire cooking tastes great

Nothing tastes as good as campfire-cooked food! 

We haven’t worked out why, but cooking outside is a lovely experience, and whatever you make it seems to taste better.

We tend to go for one-pot wonders. When you have only two gas rings, you need to get a little creative when you are feeding a crowd.  

There are some fab camping cookbooks you can pop into your kit too.  

A great tip is to make some treats before you leave so that you have some lovely cakes and bakes to hand. 

I have some wonderful chocolate recipes to inspire you.

Spend quality time together

There’s plenty of space, so you can invite your family or friends along too. The great thing is you can enjoy each other’s company and have a lovely sociable time. Eating, drinking, and playing together but then head to your tent for your own space.

Two glasses on a table with a view of the sky

Our great friends have been our camping buddies for many years. We cook independently (there are just too many of us) but time things just right that we can all sit and eat together.  

Cheers to that

You miss the outdoors when you get home, all that fresh air is so refreshing. Having your own bathroom and being back in your bed is very welcome too. It makes you appreciate what you might take for granted otherwise!

I may have only come up with a list of 7 reasons, but the good people over at Sports Fitness Adviser have come up with 20 benefits, including some top tips for beginners.

Is there anything you’d add to the list? Pop over to Facebook and share your top tips.

Happy Camping.

How to get great results with chocolate

How to get great results with chocolate

It’s all about the chocolate

So many of the problems that people face in their home chocolate creations are because they started with the wrong ingredient!  

They bought chocolate – but not the right kind of chocolate!

If you want to get great results with chocolate, you need to buy great chocolate.

What type of chocolate should you buy?

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

Now we’ve all heard about the magic 70%; buying chocolate with 70% cocoa content means that it must be a quality bar. Well in some cases that will be true of course. Just because it has more chocolate in it, doesn’t mean the chocolate is of good quality. Please don’t be fooled by numbers – it’s really about what you like the taste of!

Saying that numbers are important!  You are looking to buy chocolate with a minimum of 30% cocoa content – any less, and you will have real troubles trying to get it to ‘temper’, especially if it contains vegetable fat!

Where can you buy the right chocolate?

I recommend the supermarket’s own brands for home chocolate cooking, they have some really good and more interesting chocolate bars in stock. If you are looking for gourmet, Willie’s Cacao and Valrhona are two quality brands that can be found fairly easily at Waitrose and often good deli’s too.

Gourmet chocolate is making its mark, so if you want to explore some fantastic bars, read my interview with Master Chocolatier Paul A Young for some top tips on the best artisan producers and bars around on the market today.

Can you work with different chocolate?

If you are looking to work with either white or milk chocolate, then you need to ensure that it has a minimum cocoa content of 30%. if you are working with dark chocolate, then usually you will be looking at around 70%.  

chunks of white chocolate

It does depend on the flavour profile of the chocolate, one of my favourites is a 64% cocoa Ecuadorian chocolate which has a great depth of flavour. Taste it first, and see what you think!

You can use 100% cocoa (such as Willie’s cacao) to which you would add more sugar to the recipe! Here’s a dark chocolate cake recipe to try.

Experiment and see what you like best. Use the cheap stuff and you will always struggle to get decent results (your average Cadbury bar has only around 20% cocoa content). If you experience a chocolate disaster, take a look at some tips to remedy things.

Too hot to handle!

Temperature is everything with chocolate!  

Molten chocolate and spoon

If the room is too warm then it will not set properly and you will see dull and streaky results. “Ah, I shall pop it in the fridge then” – I hear you cry! NO! Cool too quickly and this can also ruin your finish!

So, the key thing is to work at a cool temperature, but not too cool! Your room needs to be 20° or below. If you go much above 20° you will start to have problems setting your chocolate.

If you were thinking of making those truffles on the hottest day of the year, think again – or get up very early!  

Chocolate does not like humidity either, so a very wet day can also cause problems. Don’t have the kettle on too often and fill your kitchen with steam!

Once you have made your chocolate creations, leaving them to set at room temperature (provided your room is at the right temperature), in a cool pantry, a shed, or even garage is ideal.

When you have properly tempered your chocolate, leave it to cool at the right room temperature, it will start to set fairly quickly.  

Leave it for around 30mins at least to make sure it’s fully set (more for thicker creations). 

You should see a nice smooth, shiny finish and chocolate that easily pops out of moulds or comes off the surface easily, without any hassle!

Losing your temper with chocolate!

Now chocolate is a fickle friend, and the way we handle the chocolate will be key to getting great results. It’s all about getting a good temper on the chocolate – and each chocolate will have a different tempering point!

Two tanks of chocolate

Tempering chocolate changes the structure of the crystals within chocolate so that we get a nice shiny finish and snap to our chocolate when set. To do this we heat the chocolate to 45° to melt away the main crystals, then cool quickly to a very specific point (usually around 30° to 32°) to make the right crystal present. Sounds very scientific and rather complicated, doesn’t it!   

As chocolatiers, we will usually use tempering machines, temper traditionally on marble, or the seeding method (my preferred choice) where we add fresh chocolate to heated chocolate to cool the chocolate mixture to the right point.  

You are not likely to have access to such expensive equipment, or indeed work with such quantities of chocolate, so read my secrets to successfully ‘tempering’ chocolate at home.

Show us what you made! Come and share your creations over on my Facebook page. Let’s talk chocolate!

7 tips for dinner party panache

7 tips for dinner party panache

In the final part of my guide for hosting the best dinner parties, we are looking at ideas for showing off, some cheats and drinkies darling.

In part one we covered off your pre-event planning. We got down to the menu in part two.

Here are my 7 tips for dinner party panache:

Pre-dinner drinkies

A glass of fizz, a gin and tonic, craft beer, a cheeky cocktail?

What is going to set the mood for the evening?

Bloody Mary cocktail with lime and celery

Which drink will complement your nibbles, or which nibbles will go with your drinks?

For a special occasion, I personally love a cocktail. Have this ready-mixed in a jug to serve, as it can take quite a while to prepare. I’m partial to a Bloody Mary. This is a bit out there as it is not the first choice for many. I even have a wonderfully chocolate-inspired recipe!

 With so many artisan gins on the market, you could buy local and experiment. Don’t forget to get a good tonic – as the advert says, most of a G & T is the tonic!

Depending on your budget, champagne is obviously very glam and definitely show-off! I love many of the fizzes out there. Have you tried pignoletto brut? An excellent Italian sparkle!

Wine & Booze

I’m no connoisseur of wine. 

Four glasses of rose wine on a table

I like to drink it, I’m happy to try things and listen to the advice of others and I know what I don’t like. You can resort to the experts, the supermarket write-ups, do some research if necessary.  

Typically, I tend to stick to white for lighter foods (fish/salads, etc) and red for meat & cheese.  A lovely rose on a summer evening

There are always exceptions – light, chilled reds for example.  

Show-off style is to have your wine paired with each course. Include a dessert wine to go with pud, some port to hand round with the cheese, and a tipple to round off the evening. This might be a single malt, some brandy, baileys, or the latest on-trend tipple.

Some guests will go all out and drink away, others are conscious of the next morning and drink accordingly.  

Which leads us to how much wine you need? Half to one bottle per person is a reasonable guide. If you know drinking habits that will help. How many drivers? Don’t forget some soft drinks for those that are driving home.  

It’s all in the detail

 If you really want to gain wins in the show-off stakes, try some of these:

a loaf of sourdough bread
  • Make your own bread
  • Buy posh butter (the one that costs double and is full of salt crystals)
  • Serve something to cleanse the palate between each course and/or an amuse-bouche (a bite-sized morsel of something delicious before your main course)
  • Include a pre-dessert (little sweet treats which you have before pudding)
  • Ensure all accompaniments are home-made (mayo, mint sauce, chutneys, etc)

Cheating

Buy from the right outfit and you can still show off, even when you cheat.

brownies and raspberries on a platter

I’ve mentioned our local baker already. He makes the best lemon tart I’ve ever eaten. It’s tart, sharp and the pastry is to die for. Only made to order. You can’t walk in a buy one, you have to pre-order it. So we do, and we try and keep it to a special occasion.

You can still add in some homemade biscuits, biscotti, chocolate truffle, even if you have cheated with buying something.

I cheated the other day with some of his brownies and just threw on some raspberries!  

If you have a fab deli, baker, or farm shop why not showcase their wares and treat your guests to something you recommend.

The ambiance

Don’t have every light in the house blazing! You will want to create an ambiance. Some soft lighting, candles, music.

candle in a rounded holder

If you want to show-off you can really go to town on the table. Think about all that you are going to eat, have all the right cutlery in place. Use all your lovely nic naks to make the table look fab. Include a little table gift for each guest, have place names, flowers. 

Don’t forget all the different glasses you need for your drinks (fizz, white & red wine and water). Include butter knives, serving equipment, pretty pots for condiments.    

 Like everything there will be trends for the way to lay a table – take a look online and see what takes your fancy.

Themes/Games

You could theme your dinner party. You might choose to showcase food from a specific culture or country.  

Ask guests to come in costume or fancy dress to support your theme if that would work for you all.

Host a murder mystery party and play the game whilst enjoying your dinner party.

Enjoy Yourself

People touching glasses of various drinks in a cheers motion

Finally, revel in your hostess with the mostess status. You’ve earned it. Be confident in your evening and all the hard work you have put in. Put your glad rags on, don your going-out shoes and enjoy.

Here are 7 tips for dinner party panache:
  • Set the tone – start with a killer cocktail or fancy fizz
  • Pair wines to each course
  • Show-off with the little things
  • It’s OK to cheat – but do it in style
  • Create some WOW with your table
  • Theme your food
  • Enjoy!

 There, you have all my top tips for planning a great dinner party. Have you got any special tricks up your sleeve? Why not pop over to my Facebook page and share your story.

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

In part two of my guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we are dealing with the big deal – the menu.

It’s a bit dry – not a drink in sight. Please don’t worry as tipples, and some great ideas for showing off (and a few cheats) are covered in part 3.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu:

Canapes/nibbles

Smoked salmon and sour cream on crackers

Push the boat out or open a posh bag of crisps and some nuts? This will depend on what (or if) you are doing for a starter.

If you are just opening some nice crisps, you could make a dip or two to serve with them to make nibbles a little more exciting.  

I sometimes just do posher nibbles/canapes at this stage and go straight to the main at the table rather than a starter too.

What do I mean when I say a posh nibble?

Well, it can be easy like smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis (you can cheat on buying the blinis. 

They are quite simple to make though if you want to be totally home-made).

We have a wonderful local baker that does the best crostini ever. I love to make toppings for these and hand these around with drinks. This might include homemade pesto, crab cocktail, smoked mackerel pate, or tapenade for example.

 There are some really elegant ideas for canapes, and you can spend a lot of time making gorgeous bites of delight for your guests to enjoy. Your call – but it can set the tone for the evening.

Remember to keep things small so they can be popped in, in one bite.

Starters

three dips in white bowls with bread

What’s for main – this will determine what type of starter you want to create?

I love a fishy dishy. 

I would probably avoid this if I’m having fish as a main (although I have been known to opt for double fish when ordering off a menu). I’m the daughter of a fish merchant from Billingsgate. What else would you expect?

 Veggie is perfect as it tends to be lighter and will not likely clash with what’s coming next. Beetroot, mushrooms, salads, fruits and cheese are all great. Don’t get too cheesy if you have planned a cheese course.

Go a little daring with a souffle?

Get ahead with beautiful little tarts, terrines, or a pate?

You can make or buy some wonderful breads and simple dip into quality oil and vinegar.  

I love to make dukka (a middle eastern nut and spice blend that is so simple to make and super-tasty). 

You dip your bread in oil (go for something like rapeseed for this) then into your dukka.

All rather rustic and a bit of fun.

Mains

The star of the show.

Why not take the opportunity to splash out and go full-on farm-shop meat fest, or something special from the fishmonger?

It’s an excuse to try that cut you would never add to the Sunday lunch. Go gourmet with your fish, which is a bit too extravagant for every day. 

If this is the case, you will wish to work the rest of your menu around your very special main. Keep other courses lighter if this will ensure that the main doesn’t get overwhelmed.

I still love to focus on what I can make ahead here, especially with the main course.

Beef goulash in a bowl with a wooden spoon containing pepper

A posh fish pie, a wonderful stew or casserole, a large roast joint, a whole fish. I love to bring something big and beautiful to the table. 

Your sides need to sing in harmony too. What goes well together? Think about colour and textures, what do you need on the plate? Will a decadent potato dish will make the grade? Remember less is more here. 

If you are serving lots of other courses, you don’t need lots of accompaniments too.

You may decide there will not be a star, but a whole host of supporting acts working wonderfully together – a buffet of delights?  

If you need to factor in special dietary requirements – go to tip 7.

Puddings/desserts

If chocolate is your go-to pud, take a look at my top of the chocs for some inspiration. Let’s face it, finish a meal with chocolate and your guests will love you forever.

Is pud your thing or not? 
Chocolate pudding in a glass with blueberries and raspberries

I would probably focus more on the other courses to be honest. I think you can legitimately cheat here too! More on this in the next instalment…..

Make sure the pud compliments everything else. What textures would work well with the rest of the meal? Have you had any pastry yet for example? Do you need something refreshing, something lighter and fruity perhaps?  

You may wish to offer a choice. Have one or two big puds, or instead, a range of mini puds. A trio works well. Make sure each of the puds is a good contrast, nothing too samey.

If they are really good friends, you may find they bring a pud with them and you are totally off the hook.

Cheeseboard

Two cheeses, one soft and one blue cheese

I LOVE CHEESE.  

I also love a good cracker, some like a bit of bread. Don’t forget the grapes, the celery, the chutney, chilli jam, or gorgeous quince paste (membrillo). Have you tried your cheese with cake – this is also delicious. You can get some interesting cake-flavour crackers. There are some really good quality crackers out there, don’t skimp on these if you are showcasing some great cheese.

You can decide if you are being British or French in the order you serve your cheese course.  

I find guests often nibble at cheese throughout the rest of the evening. I often serve cheese last and leave it in the middle of the table. 

If you prefer ‘du fromage’ – then serve your cheese course before pudding.  

It may be that you decide on only fruit and nuts and something nice with coffee, without a big pudding option if you are going all out on the cheese. Yum.

So if I’m being a generalist – I will ensure I have a blue, something soft and smelly, a bit of goat, and something hard like manchego, gruyere, or a really strong cheddar.  

If you can, pop to a local deli and ask their advice about what wonderful cheese they have to recommend. 

Coffee/teas & Petit fours

espresso coffee, biscotti and sugar cubes

I’m partial to a decent coffee and like many have invested in a coffee machine at home. If offering espresso’s these are so nice from the machine – full of wonderful crema. You might wish to go Italian-style and serve in a Moka pot, or a cafetiere. Please don’t serve the instant stuff. After all your hard work in the kitchen, we don’t want the coffee to let us down. Remember to grab some decaf, as some will not want caffeine that late in the evening.

Peppermint/jasmine/camomile teas are lovely and refreshing at the end of the meal. If mint is in season, pop some in your pot/individual cups and pour on boiling water – fresh mint tea is the best.

Even though everyone is full, you can’t beat a little sweet treat with your coffee. Make some truffles, buy a posh box of chocolates or after-dinner mints to hand round.

The veggies (or vegans) are coming

We eat vegetarian food most of the time. At first, I wasn’t overly confident and tended to ‘cheat’ a bit with veggie alternatives. Now I’ve learned to make the veggies the star of the show.  

Salad leaves, pear, lentils and beetroots

I often make a series of smaller veggie things to enjoy together. In the summer, I love to put up a range of salads for example. If I can, I will try and get a little adventurous with ingredients. The dressing can make or break a dish.

 Vegan diets I do find a little more challenging because I can tend to panic about what I can’t do. With a bit of planning and a calm head, there are many wonderful options you can make. There is no excuse not to find great recipes to cater for all dietary requirements and lifestyle choices.

You need to decide if you will serve up different menus or decide on courses that everyone can eat. (I did try to look up the etiquette for this but did not find a definite answer.) It’s about making everyone comfortable, included, and providing a warm foodie welcome.

Check on dietary requirements, allergies, etc, and ask their advice if you are not sure.  

Happy eating – here are 7 tips for creating the best dinner party menu:
  • If you have a fav dish you are dying to try, work the menu around that. Something that you want to do will jump out at you, be that starter, main, or pud. Once you have this element, you have something to work with.
  • Are you having nibbles or canapes?
  • What’s for starter/main/pudding?
  • Any cheese, please?
  • Care for coffee and chocs?
  • Does everything flow, compliment, and go together – do you need to add any texture or colour to the menu?
  • If you are having trouble with inspiration, look at food bloggers and food magazines and get some ideas for what’s on-trend!

In part one we got all your pre-dinner planning underway – now you have inspiration for your menu. Tune in for tipples, showing off, and cheats in the third and final part of my guide.

What are you putting on the menu – come and share on my Facebook page and let’s get chatting about all things food! 

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

As we are allowed to invite guests into our house again, it’s time to dust off those cookbooks and get planning some foodie gatherings.  

There is so much to say, so I’ve broken it down into a handy three-part guide. This is our starter. What to plot and plan before we even get thinking about the actual menu (covered in part two).  

In the final part of my guide, we will finish our dinner party with a flourish. We tackle the booze, some cheats, and most importantly how to enjoy yourself.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party:

Confidence Levels

Kneading dough on a floured board

How are you feeling about your forthcoming dinner party? Really on it and ready to show off, or feeling a little rusty in the dinner party cooking department? Be honest with yourself and devise a menu that might push you a little out of your comfort zone, but not too much. If you are worried, then keep it simple (but not too simple, see tip 3 below).

It’s not a Competition

My best friend is one of the best cooks I know. Whenever I go to hers for dinner it is amazing. She’s ambitious in her choice of menu. She creates outstanding food, and she is such a natural at it. I’m not as good as her in the kitchen. I’m more than fine and I do a fab job, but she is just better at it than me. I can find myself worrying about what to serve her when she comes to us. We are not in competition. I have to do my thing, my way.  

Remember it’s not just about the food. It’s the fact that you have been invited out, the ambiance of the evening and blimey, someone is cooking your dinner. Don’t try and be something you are not, your guests will be delighted to have been invited! 

Banish the Spag Bol

plate of spaghetti bolognese

If it’s something you serve up all the time for family dinners, don’t put it on the menu. It’s likely your guests will be eating the same at home too. Let’s change it up a bit. Be a little bit more ambitious in your food choices. Your guests won’t want to come out to eat something they have at home every week. You don’t have to do something super-complicated, but you can try something new(ish), trendy, fresh, and still keep it fairly simple.  

What’s for dinner?

pile of cookery books

This is my absolute favourite bit (as well as seeing friends of course on the big night). Getting out the cookbooks, pouring over recipes, and coming up with the menu is as much fun as the big night for me. I can spend hours pouring over stuff. When I’m happy with the whole thing, I just know. I have to tweak and fiddle until I get that feeling that it’s just right.

Don’t panic, help on menu planning is at hand. I’m going into more detail on the specifics of your menu in part two. You want to aim for balance, texture, interest, variety, colour. For example, you don’t want to serve a monster pie for the main course, followed by a pastry pudding. Think about what accompaniments you can add to the main course to ensure you are not serving up 50 shades of beige!

Most important, and key to the success of the whole thing, is my next tip…….

They came to see you

You have to decide how much time you are willing to be in the kitchen at your dinner party. Maybe you are hosting the outlaws, or your partners’ colleagues and the kitchen is feeling rather appealing!

For me, planning a menu that gives me maximum time with my guests is imperative. I will often not add a dish to the menu if there is too much last-minute faffing. If I’m set on serving up something which does require some effort in the moment, then I will ensure that my other dishes are make-ahead or minimum effort so that I minimise my time in the kitchen overall. It can hamper your choices a bit. That will be your call, however, the more you can do ahead, the more you will feel in control on the big night.

The table plan

Lady laying dinner table

Who are the people you are inviting? Will they get along? Are you aiming to mix in some new friends? This element can be a little out of your control (yes, we’ve all had that awkward experience). You may have every good intention of mixing new people, but you can’t guarantee the chemistry. If you want to ensure a good atmosphere, make sure you mix in some good friends who will come to your aid should the conversation dry up a little.

 Formal/informal on where people are to sit – it’s up to you. You will want to be closest to the kitchen with easy access to and from the table. 

You may wish to mix couples up, so they get to talk to different people.  

Use name places if you want to be more formal about it – there are some lovely and fun options around. 

I have a set with names on like ‘stud’, ‘flirt’ etc, so if you know them well enough that can be a bit of a giggle to get started!

Timed to perfection

Two cartoon chefs beside a clock with an fried egg in the centre

Many years ago, I went to a lovely Sunday lunch, hosted by a London socialite friend who had got a great bunch of interesting people together. It was a lovely summery lunch, with a whole salmon and all the trimmings – but she got her timings so wrong. I don’t know if she forgot to switch the oven on, or if the oven wasn’t working properly. She had oodles of gin of offer and everyone was completely plastered well before lunch was served. We even got sent to the pub for an hour while she got back on track. Needless to say, most of us couldn’t remember the lunch. 

We did have a fabulous time and a real laugh about it and here I am still talking about it today.

You need to decide when you wish to eat your main course and work backward from there.

How long will you allow for drinks/nibbles?

Are you serving a starter? 

Factor in the time required for this, plus a little rest time between courses.

Bear in mind you usually eat later, and people have saved themselves for a bigger meal. You may find you don’t want too many drinks before you eat. I love a pre-dinner drink, nothing tastes quite as lovely. I am conscious I’ve still got to get the meal out!

Once you have served your main course, you can relax and take things a little slower. I sometimes pop the rest on the table all at once. It may not be quite the done thing? If I put the puddings and cheese on together, I can sit back and take a deep breath – all the hard work is done!

In summary, my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party are:
  • How are you feeling?
  • Who are you going to ask along?
  • How much showing off are you going to want to do?
  • What are you not going to serve (maybe you done it before and want something new)?
  • Work out how much time away from your guests is involved.
  • Think about your timings for the night.
  • Get a long list together of potential menu options

In part two of my handy guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we shall be looking at the main event – the menu – in more detail.   

 If you want to discuss food, drinks, and chocolate then please pop to my Facebook page.

Top of the Chocs – five recipes to make at home

Top of the Chocs – five recipes to make at home

I’m sharing my top five fav chocolate recipes for you to make at home:

Sweet and salty crunchy nut squares

Nutty chocolate bars with marshmallows

In at number five, my son’s all-time favourite and the easiest thing to make in the world. The original recipe is by Nigella Lawson from her Kitchen cookbook. You know they are going to be decadent, extremely naughty but so nice! She mentions being inspired by sitting on the sofa simultaneously eating a mixture of salted nuts and chocolate.

You melt a mixture of dark and milk chocolate with butter and golden syrup, then pour this over crushed crunchie bars and salted peanuts – mix, leave to set then cut and eat! It’s totally delicious and sooo simple!

Full recipe

Everyone’s favourite – chocolate brownies

Chocolate brownies

If you’re anything like me, you’ve made 100’s of brownies over the years and probably tasted a fair few too. I like Nigella’s (Lawson again) recipe from her ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ cookbook for the best results.

Mix it up and experiment with different flavours. I add white chocolate buttons, or perhaps a mix of white chocolate and cranberries for Christmas! The current fav is to put some coffee, cardamom and caramel choc in the mix. It’s really a really good combination. What would you put in yours?

Full recipe

A truly decadent chocolate cake

Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate shavings

Did you see the documentary about Willie Harcourt-Cooze some years ago on Channel Four? It’s worth a watch – entitled ‘Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory’ I don’t know about chocolate enthusiasm, he has a chocolate obsession!

This cake is inspired by one from Willie’s book, Willie’s Chocolate Factory – a Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. It uses Willie’s 100% cacao (Waitrose currently stock this in their baking section). It’s a solid block of pure chocolate you grate into the cake mix.
It makes a truly deep and wonderfully flavoured chocolate cake, which has no flour!

Full recipe

Mocha mousse

Espresso cups

A little get ahead dinner party treat served in cute espresso cups! My inspiration for this came from the founder and co-owner of Chococo (award-winning chocolate biz based in Dorset) – Claire Burnet. I have a copy of her first book, ‘Chococo – chocolate cookbook’!

It’s rather a rich pud and just a small amount goes a long way. The finished effect is like a little macchiato – and sprinkling the tops with a little coffee powder and some cocoa nibs* mixed together is a very nice finish!
*Cocoa nibs are chopped roasted cocoa beans that you can buy in most supermarkets or a good chocolate shop.

Full recipe


Dinner party wow pud

Chocolate tart
Photograph: Anders Schønnemann/Kyle Cathie, The Guardian

This comes in at No 1 – top of the chocs. Inspired by Master Chocolatier *Paul A Young’s sea-salted chocolate and pecan tart. it really does taste as good as it looks.

I’ve made this a few times, and it never fails to delight. Taken from Paul’s amazing book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’. Go the whole hog, make the chocolate pasty, follow Paul’s directions and use fantastic chocolate and you will be totally bowled over with the result.

*Paul A Young is my favourite chocolatier – read my interview with him!

Full recipe

I hope you enjoy making these. Why not share your go-to chocolate recipes and I can re-create a readers list!

Love to do more than just play with chocolate? My previous blog, five reasons to work with chocolate, may just inspire you!

For further recipes and inspiration pop to my Facebook page

Five reasons to work with chocolate

Five reasons to work with chocolate

Here are five reasons to work with chocolate, although the first one is glaringly obvious, the others you may not have considered:

The biggest and best reason to work with chocolate is that you are…… working with chocolate!

You will never look at chocolate in the same way again – you will discover the amazing world that opens up to you – festivals, experts, academics, tastings, blogs, magazines, events, travel, education, history and developments. 

It’s a funny thing isn’t it, that as soon as you start to pick up on something new, you suddenly see or hear it everywhere.  So, imagine a world where chocolate is your main focus – how good does that sound? 

Once chocolate is your ‘business’ you can legitimately go on tastings, sign up for tasting clubs, go to chocolate events, seminars, talks – visit new shops, try out new products, champion master chocolatiers, understand weird, wacky and wonderful pairings of flavours from the best in the business.

There are always exciting developments too – producers who are supporting farmers to cultivate rare and flavoursome beans, producing exquisite chocolate that tastes like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.

Five reasons to work with chocolate - make some truffles

Supermarkets are selling good quality own brands of chocolate, making it accessible and affordable for all.  The quality chocolate shops are more visible on high streets, and we as consumers are being exposed to more gourmet options (as well as all our old favourites too).

The chocolate world becomes your truffle!

Work with chocolate and notice the amazing affect it has on others

The Latin name for cocoa is ‘theobroma cacao’ which literally means ‘food of the gods’.

It contains tryptophan, a chemical in the brain that is used to produce the neurotransmitter, serotonin.  High levels of serotonin stimulate the secretion of endorphins and produce feelings of elation.  (Serotonin is found in the anti-depressant Prozac, and the designer drug ‘ecstasy’.)

Five reasons to work with chocolate - make people happy

Chocolate also contains a chemical called phenylethylamine – high levels of this neurotransmitter help promote feelings of attraction, excitement and giddiness!

So, working with chocolate and encouraging more people to eat the good stuff actually will make you, and the world, a happier and seemingly more attractive place to be!

We need more chocolate in our lives right now!

Say ‘chocolate’ and it will (almost) sell itself

How do you feel when someone tries to get you to change utility provider?

What about when someone knocks on the door and tries to sell some double-glazing, or cold calls, or leaves a message about that accident (you never had) for claiming compensation?

If you are anything like me, you wonder how anyone does their job if that’s what they have to sell?

Five reasons to work with chocolate - it's easy to sell, we heart chocolate

Now think chocolate!

How easy is it to sell chocolate?  Let me tell you, you don’t have to, it sells itself.

When people ask me what I do and I tell them I work with chocolate, I watch their reaction and it’s totally predictable.   They get all animated and excited and start telling me what chocoholics they are.

They’re sold, just by me telling them what I do, without even having to ask them to consider buying!

At the bank, at the make-up counter, at the hairdressers, at the supermarket, buying a car, the dry-cleaners, shops, schools, travelling.  Everywhere – these are all genuine places I’ve discussed chocolate and people have asked me for my details!

Next time someone asks, “What do you do?”, how cool will it feel to say, ‘I work with chocolate!”

The chocolate calendar is ideal for family life

So how many weeks holiday can you take a year?  What with holiday entitlement and fitting in with colleagues and if you have little ones it’s a constant juggle, a total guilt-trip at times, especially over the long summer holidays. 

the excitement of children making a bag of chocolates

What if you worked to your own timetable?  Being your own boss means you can take holidays to suit the whole family, but here’s how the chocolate calendar works:

  • January:        quiet time to plan the year ahead
  •  February:      Valentine’s Day
  •  March/April: Mothers Day/Easter
  •  May/June:    Birthday and hen party season
  •  July/Aug:      More hen parties and the wedding season –it’s also often a bit hot for choc so ideal for time out with the family!
  • Sept/Oct:     Birthdays/treats and Halloween
  •  Nov/Dec:     the build-up to Christmas

Ideally suited to maximising chocolate sales and enjoying quality family time too! 

Unleash your creative side working with chocolate

Working with chocolate, you can do something totally creative and earn money doing so too.

the wonderful creativity chocolate inspires

Chocolate is luxurious, it’s always been seen as a special treat since it arrived in London in 1650 – definitely not a fad and guaranteed not to lose popularity anytime soon.

People just love chocolate.

It’s tricky to work with, so an amateur at home will experience difficulties, especially when tempering chocolate.   There will always be people looking to a trained ‘expert’ like you for help. 

What you can do with chocolate is endless – making chocolate creations, running workshops, offering tastings, tutorials, cocoa ceremonies and so much more.

What would you do with chocolate?

I’ve covered five reasons to work with chocolate…… why not pop to my facebook page for more chocolate inspiration!

We need to choose to do things that make us happy and fulfilled – everyone deserves to do a job that they enjoy, you may even start blogging about it! What’s not to love about working with chocolate?

100 Ways to Unwind!

100 Ways to Unwind!

A list of 100 ways to unwind – because it’s all about YOU

A landscape at dusk
  1. Breathe – sit quietly, notice your breath in and out, breathe deeply
  2. Walk barefoot on the grass
  3. Sign up for a yoga class
  4. Have a PJ day
  5. Light a smelly candle and let the smell calm your senses
  6. Take a long, hot soak in the bath
  7. Meditate – as little as 5 mins a day can be beneficial, set a timer, get quiet and let thoughts flow, you can download guided meditations if that is helpful for you
  8. Visit the woods – hear the rustle of the leaves, the snap of a twig, notice the light filtering through the canopy, the majesty and strength of the trees
  9. Start the day with some yoga poses (use youtube to find out how to do them properly)
  10. Visit the sea, listen to the sound of the waves
  11. Watch the sunrise, notice the potential in a new day
  12. Watch the sunset, notice the beauty at the end of the day, and be thankful for at least one good thing in your life right now
  13. Celebrate a full moon, stand and wonder at the bright moon in a vast sky
  14. Sign up for a Pilates class
  15. Take a walk in nature – notice your surroundings, the sounds, the fields, the trees, the sunshine, the rain, the sky, the clouds
  16. Read a book
  17. Journal your feelings – find a lovely notebook and write regularly
  18. Go for a swim
  19. Visit the mountains, take in the view
  20. Drink lots of water
  21. Enjoy some peace and quiet and some alone time
  22. Go for a jog or run – studies have recently shown and even a short run each week is beneficial
  23. Sit by the bank of a river and watch the water flow, imagine your worries flowing by
  24. Get baking or cooking and notice the lovely smells permeating the home
  25. Have a cuppa
  26. Talk to a good friend
  27. Visit a museum
  28. Buy a colouring book and some decent pens – do some colouring
  29. Watch your diet, enjoy eating healthy foods and avoid too many sugary snacks
  30. Can you break down what you are worried about?  Set aside sometime each day to worry – instead of allowing worries to undermine you all the time, say to yourself, you will worry about that at ‘worry time’ and sit and think about all those things that are worrying you in detail.  Some you may be able to fix, some you will not.  Acknowledge each thing you are worried about and then move on until the next worry time.
  31. Go to a fitness class
  32. Stick on your favourite tune and dance around the kitchen
  33. Watch something easy and light on TV
  34. Listen to your favourite podcast
  35. Read/watch or listen to someone inspirational – Ted Talks have lots of wonderful options to choose from
  36. Book yourself a massage or other beauty/relaxation treatment
  37. Eat a little dark chocolate
  38. Declutter a cupboard, a room, or a space such as your desk
  39. Do a crossword/quiz or sudoku
  40. Have a laugh; listen to comedy, joke around with friends, watch a comedy show
  41. Draw or paint something
  42. Do your favourite sporting activity
  43. Take up a new sporting activity
  44. Spend time with animals – visit the zoo or a farm
  45. Take the dog for a walk or spend time with your pet(s), join in with a friend on a dog walk if you don’t have a dog yourself
  46. Play an instrument
  47. Hug a tree
  48. Watch children playing
  49. Do some retail therapy – maybe just some window shopping will be enough
  50. Create time in the day to think or daydream
  51. Go for a cycle ride or a spin class
  52. Go fishing or sit watching someone else fishing
  53. Climb a hill (or mountain) and enjoy the view from the top
  54. Visit an art gallery
  55. Watch a film at the cinema
  56. Go to the ballet/theatre
  57. Buy yourself some flowers
  58. Work in the garden, allotment or help someone else with their garden/allotment (even a planter or window box will suffice)
  59. Be grateful for what you have
  60. Try essential oils and aromatherapy
  61. Visit a comedy club
  62. Go to a festival/music gig
  63. Think about your next holiday, do some research and book something to look forward to
  64. Get organised, make action plans and lists and tick things off as you go
  65. Visit a coffee shop, buy your favourite drink and sit and watch the world go by
  66. Knit or crochet
  67. Learn to play a new instrument
  68. Do something mindless – some housework, clean the car, organise a drawer
  69. Smell the roses – notice the aroma from your favourite blooms
  70. Write something – a blog or some fiction
  71. Buy yourself a little treat
  72. Take a power nap
  73. Look at some inspiring photos
  74. Visit a spa
  75. Organise your emails and sort your inbox
  76. Write a letter to a loved one
  77. Visit a church or cathedral and wonder at the amazing architecture and history
  78. Visit a beautiful garden
  79. Get an early night
  80. Visit the library
  81. Take up a new hobby/learn a new skill
  82. Get up earlier and finish your ‘jobs/tasks’ earlier to create more free time
  83. Visit a food market and marvel at the delicious wares on sale
  84. Enjoy the sunshine on your face
  85. Change your bedding and notice the lovely smell of fresh sheets
  86. Skim stones across the water
  87. Visit a beautiful lake and marvel and the view
  88. Have a lie in or a duvet day
  89. Go and watch your team play a sport
  90. Plant a tree
  91. Talk to someone – a problem is better shared
  92. Ask for help, delegate something, you don’t have to own everything
  93. Remind yourself that perfection is overrated – good is good enough
  94. Put on a facemask, or an eye mask
  95. Watch a tearjerker film and have a good cry
  96. Ask for a hug
  97. Support someone in need
  98. Light some incense. Scents like Sandalwood and Sage can help calm anxieties and aid relaxation.
  99. Avoid negativity – don’t judge others but try and separate your identity and emotions from it.
  100. BE YOU!