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.

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).

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.

History of chocolate

History of chocolate

Chocolate has a fascinating history.

Used as currency and later badged as liquid gold, such was its value!

At one time it was for MEN ONLY (but thankfully women have made up for that since).

It was only enjoyed by royalty and society’s elite for many years as it was too rare and expensive for the common people. We owe gratitude to the Quaker families, who decided chocolate was a better alternative to gin and made it more accessible for all.

Here’s a brief history of chocolate

Origins

Botanists believe that the first cocoa trees grew wild in the Amazon Orinoco approximately 4,000 years ago.

Cocoa beans were first cultivated by the Mayans when they migrated to the Yucatan peninsula in the 7th Century AD.



The Aztecs

Mayan writing for the word Kakau referring to chocolate

Aztecs conquered large parts of Mexico 700 years later and imposed a feudal system on the Mayans and other tribes.

All taxes were paid in cocoa beans! Cocoa beans became the common currency:
4 nibs (or beans) = a rabbit
100 nibs = a slave
Fraudsters would fill hollowed-out cocoa bean shells with earth.

Chocolate was consumed in liquid form – mixed from a block of prepared nibs (crude chocolate tablet). Chillies, other spices, and flowers were mixed with dried, roasted, and ground cocoa nibs, they also added cornmeal as an emulsifier (to absorb the greasy cocoa butter).

Ruling Emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma would consume huge quantities of chocolate at ceremonies – often a 1,000 jugs in a night!

Who drank it?

Native Aztec with chocolate equipment and weapons

Chocolate was strictly reserved for men only!

It was only available for the ‘elite’ – and acted to show their prowess and standing as a tonic aphrodisiac!

Referred to as Xocolatl – which literally means ‘bitter water’.

The first Chocolate Entrepreneur?

Hernan Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs and introduced chocolate successfully to Europe.
Hernan Cortes

Tenochtitlan (now known as Mexico City) was the Aztec capital – which was invaded by the Spanish Crown in 1519, led by Cortes.

Cortes was intrigued by the Aztec’s consumption of chocolate.

Columbus introduced the cocoa bean and Aztec drink to Europe 20 years prior to Cortes, but at the time it was intensely disliked. European palates were not used to the spices and chillies used in the drink.

Cleverly, Cortes added sugar and vanilla to the brew and recounted tales of Montezuma imbibing the sacred drink. Cortes realised the possibilities of exploiting this ‘liquid gold’. He established plantations in Mexico, Trinidad, and Haiti. African slaves became as important to cocoa cultivation as the sugar industry.

Chocolates reaches Europe

For the first 100 years after Cortes’ discovery, the drink remained a preserve of the Spanish Court – it was extremely expensive and only afforded by aristocrats.

News of the drink spread to Germany, Austria, Flanders, Italy, and then France in the first half of the 17th Century.

Chocolate appears to reach London around 1650 – when it was branded as a nourishing drink.
Pepys describes the drink as a hangover cure in his diary notes.

There were two varieties – ordinary and royal (royal with a higher cocoa content and little sugar).

During the 18th Century, Europe saw a rapid increase in consumption. Still, only wealthy people could afford it as it was heavily taxed.

Chocolate Pioneers

By 1852 taxes decreased due to merits promoted by Quaker industrialists and larger imports. In 1850 1,400 tonnes were imported, by the 1900s this had multiplied nine-fold!

Most of the early cocoa entrepreneurs are household names:
Hershey, Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree – owing their success to Swiss pioneer inventors: Caillr, Suchard, Peter, Nestle, Lindt, and Tobler.

Fry was the first to create a chocolate bar-shaped mould for chocolate.

Rudolphe Lindt was responsible for creating the process of conching to ensure we have smooth chocolate to enjoy.

In the UK, four great Quaker families: Cadbury, Fry, Terry, and Rowntree became involved with cocoa as they saw it as a healthy alternative to the menace of gin! They played a large part in making chocolate a food of the people, creating model working environments and housing for workers.

Fry was the first to put chocolate in a tablet form in the shape of the bar as we know it today (sadly no relation to Dawn Fry, but a good name to start a chocolate workshop business with!)



Food of the Gods

Cacao beans

Chocolate has today become part of a daily culture for all levels of society in the Western world.

“Theobroma cacao’ is the Latin name for cocoa. Theobroma literally means ‘food of the gods’. It contains ‘theobromine’ which is a natural anti-depressant!

Hurrah for chocolate – if all this history has made you crave some of the good brown stuff, then here are some delicious chocolate recipes to make at home.

It is good for us to take a moment to realise how easy it is for us to access chocolate in today’s world and be grateful that we can enjoy this wonderful food stuff whenever we choose. Its history may have inspired you to try some more expensive chocolate, here’s how to taste it properly.

Enjoy!

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!