Trying a new writing cafe today…
Category Archives: Food & Drink
For this week’s Phoneography Challenge, ‘My Neighbourhood’, I’ve decided to share with you the cafes in which I most commonly write. So I’ve spent all week taking photos — plus included one or two I’d previously taken (on my phone of course!).
My criteria for cafes to write in are: good coffee, nice ambiance and space. I don’t want to feel as though I’m hogging a table, so if it’s a busier cafe, I’ll choose a quieter time. Usually, I’ll order at least two coffees or have a meal, just to say “thanks for having me”.
OK, now for the photos!
First, this is my Green Bag — my mobile office, really. It contains: my netbook computer, writing journal, highlighters, post-it tabs, pens… All I need for a productive writing session! Since I walk to all the cafes, my bag needs to be comfy to wear — it’s an Australian brand called Crumpler and the style is ‘The Considerable Embarrassment’.
Below is Cafe #1, where I most often meet a couple of my writing buddies… It has great coffee — plus, as an added bonus, it’s licensed for the times we do those all-day sessions! Wine o’clock is generally sometime after 2pm. It makes me feel as though I’m “renting” the table. And sometimes it helps the words flow too.
This is Cafe #2, unassuming and casual, where I meet my sister after her Pilates class (having got there early for some word slinging). My goto lunch here is a “chicken baguette”, which is so much more than it sounds!
And finally this is Cafe #3, which has the best coffee in the street — with latte art to boot!
So there you have it. Now you have the full picture. When I talk about “writing in cafes” it’s invariably from one of these three. The staff at all three are coming to know me rather well.
Now I’d love to hear about your favourite cafe. If you write in cafes, what are your criteria?
NOTE: All photos taken by me on my iPhone 4S. I started this post off using the iPhone App, but for a post with this many photos it was too hard, so I edited and finished on the laptop.
It seems for the month of November, I will be fixated on inspirational aids/props to get me through NaNoWriMo… Last week it was notebooks. This week it’s chocolate.
What can I say? I’m a week into NaNoWriMo now (trying to write 50,000 words of my novel in just 30 days) and chocolate is NECESSARY!
I have the above chocolate stash in my house on standby at the moment.
Does anyone else have the affliction that when chocolate is on sale in the supermarket you have to buy at least five blocks? The minute Lindt Excellence, or those (chocolate covered) Turkish Delight bars, or the impressive 400g Toblerones are anywhere near reduced, I can’t help myself. I think I once bought 10 blocks of Lindt Excellence all at once. And I used to have four Toblerones…
But you can never have too much chocolate, right?
Sometimes I’m quite good at resisting the eating of it. It’s enough just to know it’s there in the cupboard, waiting for that day I really need it. (I get really stressed if there’s none in the house — you should have seen me on the weekend down at my parents’ holiday house when it was revealed there was no chocolate in the house anywhere!)
Other times, nothing will stop me…
Here’s another block I picked up at the store this evening. What do you reckon?
Chocolate is my inspiration of the week (a day late). What’s your favourite? Do you think the diet chocolate block is worth a try?
It turns out there’s more to chocolate than I ever realised.
Like a fine wine or a premium coffee, the highest quality chocolate has subtle flavours and aromas reminiscent of the plantation where the caca0 beans were grown. Along with the cocoa mass concentration, which determines the degree of darkness, these flavour variations can be experienced in a good old fashioned tasting.
Yes, today I sat down to a formal chocolate tasting and experienced an education.
Lesson 1 — Know your cacao beans
There are three different types of cacao beans: the really good ones (criollo), the everyday ones (forastero) and a hybrid of the two (trinitario). 95% of world chocolate is made from forastero, while criollo beans (higher quality, lower yield, more susceptible to disease…) are reserved for the most special of special chocolates.
Plantation location is also becoming increasingly significant, in a similar way to grapes for premium wine and single-origin coffee. There’s a distinct trend towards single country of origin — even plantation of origin — in premium chocolate production.
Lesson 2 — The basic ingredients
Chocolate is made from a blend of cocoa mass and cocoa butter (both derived from cacao beans — for details see wikipedia!), sugar and milk. The amount of cocoa mass determines the ‘darkness’ of the chocolate — more than 50% is considered ‘dark chocolate’ — and cocoa butter contributes to the smoothness. The darker the chocolate, the better for you from a health point of view.
Lesson 3 — Mr Lindt was a genius
The smooth, melt-in-your-mouth quality we expect of chocolate today is also due largely to the invention of ‘conching’ by Rodolphe Lindt, who devised a method of mixing cocoa butter, sugar and chocolate particles that resulted in 0.2 micron particles that basically can’t be detected by our palate. Prior to this, chocolate tasted a bit gritty, owing to undissolved/mixed sugar particles.
Lesson 4 — Experience with your 5 senses
Look at the chocolate — it should be shiny and aesthetically pleasing. Listen to the chocolate — snap it close to your ear and listen for a crisp crack and look for a smooth edge. Touch the chocolate — cocoa butter melts below body temperature, so it should start to melt in your hand. Smell the chocolate — try to identify regional variations (like wine). Taste the chocolate — swirl it around your tongue to use all your taste buds… try to identify saltiness, acidity, bitterness (as well as the regional variations). Focus on what’s going on inside your mouth!
Lesson 5 — Taste from darkest to lightest
Start with the darkest, most intense chocolate and move through milk and then white. (Not what I expected.) This is because you start with the purest chocolate, uncontaminated by additives (such as sugar…).
The taste test
Our tasting this morning was conducted by a Melbourne company called Chocoholic Tours as part of the Chocolate Journey walk.
- We started with a 72% dark chocolate from NZ company Whittakers, beans from Ghana.
- Next was a 67% dark Belgian chocolate from Callebaut (the world’s largest provider of coverture chocolate). The beans were Madigascan and a blend of all three types — with hints of blueberry, licorice and coffee.
- Then came a 65% Swiss chocolate from Felchlin, a company that only uses criollo beans from 100-yr old trees in Venezuela — with hints of coffee, plumb, orange blossum and cinnamon. (my favourite!)
- Followed by the first milk chocolate, also from Felchlin, this time 38% cocoa mass.
- We had to try a mediocre chocolate of course, 32% milk chocolate entirely made from Callebaut Javan forastero beans, which we dubbed ‘Easter Egg chocolate’.
- Last one was a white chocolate (zero cocoa mass, only cocoa butter). Callebaut again, 29% cocoa butter with the rest being sugar and milk. Very good quality for a white chocolate — but can it really be considered chocolate?
Going through each chocolate, step by step, focusing on the five senses (especially the palate swirling) was amazing. I could really taste the difference between them… and it made me realise I should eat chocolate this way all the time. Not that I should regularly do a progressive tasting, but that I should stick with good quality chocolate and focus on the experience, rather than just shovel it in.
Lesson 6 — How to make hot chocolate
There was one more lesson to follow — we visited Chokolait, a wonderful little cafe in the Hub Arcade that specialises in hot chocolate. Here, we tried the most amazing hot chocolate, and found out how to make it! The key tips are:
- Use good quality chocolate (doh!). Chokolait has several different single-origin chocolates and blends available (plus additives like chilli).
- Melt the chocolate first. This is to prevent too much mixing when you add the milk.
- Add the textured/steamed milk to the molten chocolate, not the other way around, and fold gently. You don’t want to mix too much to destroy the texture.
- Ratio is approximately 1/3 chocolate to 2/3 milk.
So, there endeth the chocolate lesson. What’s your favourite chocolate experience?
Custard. Thick, creamy, sweet. Slabbed between two dainty sheets of flaky puff pastry. Eaten with a fork. This is a vanilla slice, an Australian cake institution, derived from the French mille-feuille, but oh so much better.
I have a weakness for vanilla slices, a weakness my beloved grandmother discovered while I was still a child, and diligently fostered with treats after school. Ever since, I’ve diligently sampled them far and wide, sometimes making pilgrimages to cafes of known vanilla slice awesomeness.
I’m not alone. Such is the obsession with vanilla slices in Australia that many country towns enter an annual competition to see who makes the best ones. The key component is the custard. Infused with vanilla, folded with whipped cream. The pastry is merely structural, an afterthought to hold it all together. It’s all about the custard.
So… I daresay you will not be surprised that it is often a vanilla slice to which I turn in moments of weakness, sadness, world-weariness. (Or sometimes I just can’t resist the sight of them — I’d be hard pushed to resist the one pictured!)
And if the guilt-monster starts attacking me? This is what I
tell myself told myself today:
- Custard is mostly made from milk, which we all know is a fundamental food group. Plus milk contains calcium for strong bones.
- I need to break that $20 note to give change to the person who orders my coffee.
- The sooner I eat the vanilla slice, the sooner I can hide the evidence.
- Yesterday I ate a chocolate fondant, so it’s not as though I’ve been dieting recently.
- I walked 10 minutes to the shops and back, so I deserve it.
- There’s no point dieting until I start working out on a regular basis. So I might as well enjoy it…
What about you guys? Any sinful edible secrets you go to great lengths to rationalise? What’s the best excuse you can come up with?