I spotted this melted ice cream van in my inbox this morning...dang, those poor vehicles in Australia don't have a chance.
Saturday, 29 March 2008
I'm off on my tour in less than 2 weeks (April 10th) and I have started to be mauled by the Night Hound. Lying there in the dead of night with the one thought my head revolving round my chalky mind: What-the-hell-are-you-doing-? But then I get up and feel much braver. I need to feel scared and out of my depth, it's a prerequisite of feeling alive and purposeful. When I break it all down it's pretty straightforward - I need to rely on the gift of the gab and on people's love of chocolate to get me through 3 months on the road in the choc-mobile.
I have had some really exciting offers of supper/a bed for the night/a plug-in for Jimmy. There's a guy called Alex right in the middle of England who puts together these legendary sounding BBQs - we're going to make a marinade using Willie's chocolate. Then there's Eddie up in Inverness who sold me Jimmy in the first place. He wants us to both set up at his Saturday pitch and go head to head in competition with each other - soft scoop V hard scoop, the ultimate scoop-off!
I have supper to look forward to in Whitstable, Hastings, Chichester, Hayward's Heath, Oxford, Maidenhead....to name just a few - and I'm leaving plenty of days open to chance. The logistics of it all is a bit daunting but then so is starting a business and you soon learn that some things can't be planned properly, and you come to trust that you'll have the nouse to figure certain things out as you go along (hopefully).
I went for dinner last night with some new friends in my manor. Giuseppe and Bridget are a power house of tasty morsels and treats. He is the owner of the wonderful Black's on Dean St and they've just opened this great pizza place in Brixton market. Imagine this - a place that just does amazing pizzas, Napule-style. They're making their own sourdough (real deal, without yeast unlike other pretenders) and simple all organic sauces, homemade lemonade, one red wine, one white and proper Italian beer. No messing, good prices and in my hood! We ate so well with them - endless grilled pieces of deliciousness kept arriving on my plate: halloumi, fresh bread, homemade taramasalata, banana peppers, succulent lamb chops with tzatziki, crunchy roasted rosemary tats...and then I felt very honoured when Bridget produced some homemade chocolate sorbet she'd made especially for me. It's such a refreshing dessert - pitch black and looking all naughty, but light and clean amongst the darkness.
Thanks for all the suggestions and do keep them coming!
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
I went home to Suffolk for Easter - a house full of my family and friends all holed up together with too much of everything but not quite enough sun.
I first had to do a job in Mayfair for the set of Spooks. I left the house on Easter morning with great fist size snowflakes crowning me and hot-footed it over to Berkeley Square. I love doing TV jobs because there's always loads of teckies on hand with well coiled cables and loads of extra power, all ready and rearing to go. Power - the bain of my choc-mobiling life...things could get pretty hairy on the big tour if Gennie from the Box doesn't cooperate.
The weather was grim - in a way it's better like this because it makes for even more of a treat when the twinkling lights and pink neon of Choc Star comes calling. I made some large fluffy Malteser muffins, chocolate and rum flourless squares and little bags of walnut fudge brownie bites. To drink it had to be the 'Floating Islands' hot chocolates - melted dark chocolate with steamed milk, cream and soft marshmallows bobbing around on top.
Very quickly it was all over and I was cruising through town to the M11. All went well. Jimmy charged down the motorway like a van with a mission. I smiled contentedly and sang along to an old reggae tape, thrilled to be out on the road and not even caring about the snow/sleat/hale/rain. No, things couldn't have been better as I came off a slip road and headed for the A143 to Diss...alarmingly though, as I attempted to change gears, I seemed to have lost the entire clutch pedal. Vanished! Stopping - right in the middle of the road - it appeared that the clutch cable had snapped and the pedal was all loose and completely unusable.
And my phone was about to run out of juice. And I was desperate for the loo. I rang the AA who told me they'd be very quick on account of my being alone and in the middle of the road. I waited for a bit then darted over to the bushes on the roundabout and returned feeling much better. I declined calls from my family wanting an update so as to save the juice. I poured myself cup after cup of hot chocolate and threw marshmallows idly into my mouth. I even got approached by a carload of girls who screeched to a halt and ran over raving about seeing me on telly. Two hours later matey rocks up and fixes the thing in minutes. The delay wasn't his fault so I furnished him with what was left of the hot chocolate (he couldn't believe his luck) and finally I continued on my way.
The rest of the weekend was heaven. Endless glasses of wine, walks in the snow and great greedy meals - only disturbed by the AA calling me to keep apologising for taking so frickin' long. I don't understand that. If they were really that sorry they would have offered me some kind of tangible consolation and I would have loved them forever.
And now here I am back in London with a mountain of to-do lists for the tour - only two weeks to go: AAAArghhhhhhhhh! I had a lovely chat with Dave from Book the Cook today - he says that the North East will be waiting for me with open arms. I have to say that that part of the country is showing me extra amounts of love and I can't wait to get up to the wilds of Northumbria.
Less forthcoming are Lancashire and Yorkshire. Now I really want to go to Blackpool and Wigan and Bradford...but have had no joy so far. If it comes to it I'm just going to pitch up there, park the van, head for the nearest pub and just wing it. Surely there'll be someone in any pub in the land who I can persuade to give me supper?!
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Hi choc fans,
Thanks for all your nice messages about my TV appearance in Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory the other day - it's been great for tour suggestions (do keep them coming!) and nice to know that I'll have people looking out for the van while we're en route.
So far I'm getting crazy love from all over the west country and Sussex and Kent have been very friendly too with lots of suppers invitations...not so forthcoming from the North though. Who knows anyone in Yorkshire/Lancashire/Nottinghamshire/Staffordshire? The Scots have also been great and I want to go as far up in that beautiful land as the invitations will take me.
Bring on the suggestions!
So since I was spotted on telly on Sunday I've had several people calling/e-mailing/turning up on my door...well, almost if this one guy earlier is anything to go by, DESPERATE for a piece of Willie and his wares. All I can tell you is that I spoke to him yesterday and he's holed up in that factory 24/7 trying to produce as much as the stuff as he can. The final episode should shine a light for non-London people on where to buy the choc as well...and check this out - his chocolate has become the fastest selling item in the history of Selfridges! Brilliant.
And I'll certainly be packing it for my tour and will be making delicious things with it along the way as well as selling the actual bars.
So, although Willie's a bit incognito at present there is plenty of hope on the old horizontal.
Monday, 17 March 2008
My fridge is bulging with cans of Guinness - every shelf is awash with black and cream. I have a good supplier - Miss Ursula next door. Every week she comes knocking for me with a bag of treats. It's always the same three things - cranberry juice, frozen broccoli or Guinness. I try to abate the flow but she's determined that I should have them. The cranberry juice is good for cocktails, the broccoli...well, I haven't had much dealings with the frozen type but I guess I can fashion it into a soup and the Guinness....well, that's the beauty of the chocolate Guinness cupcake - the recipe for which can be seen in a little piece they've done on Choc Star at the Times Online. Knock yerselves out!
So I went to give a chocolate tasting at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre the other day - it was me, some Valrhona, Amadei, El Tesoro and a few other delectables...and a load of amazed kids.
I think they were expecting chocolate fountain antics with marshmallows but by the time they'd got their heads round the idea of what chocolate really and truly is...delight. They were buzzing with their new information and gabbling away with sticky brown mouths as they charged off to find their parents.
After I said good-bye I went and popped in on my mum's cousin, Liccy, who was married to R.D himself. She was fielding a hundred different phone calls - organising Proms and open days so I slipped away to Roald's shed at the bottom of the garden for a little peak.
How I would love to be able to post the pics I have of this magical haven. Everything you ever imagined about the man and his style is preserved here, kept entirely as it was up until the day he died. A great big ashtray spills over with fag butts, their legacy seeped deep into the polystyrene ceiling. His writing chair sits firmly in position with a piece cut out of the back from when he had a mysterious growth that would otherwise have pressed up against it.
At the foot of the chair is a footstool with a mangled old polyester sleeping bag for pulling over his legs when the cold came in and looming perilously overhead is an ancient electric heater on a kind of pully system hooked into the ceiling - he would yank it towards him with a big stick so that it's hot, electric fronds might power down on his polyestered lap.
A low table lies to the right of his writing chair - a city of trinkets and pictures: framed photos of children and parents, little jars of questionable content, a large Kit-Kat ball - made entirely from the (RIP) silver wrappers of the old school bars, bits of rock, stone, bone and wood.
The whole place is a proper dark little grotto of intrigue. I inhaled deeply the air that contained him whilst writing all but two of his whole collection. I'm so gutted that I never met him but my cousins whose uncle he was would regale me with tales of post-lunch exoduses to the sweet shop - of jars and jars of treats posted strategically around the house. My head would spin with delight at the thought of it all and I had to be really good when my brother came back from spending a day with him - Roald had taken him under his wing on a boys mission, away from all the girls, off to his dingy, fascinating little den to show my brother his jarred appendix and slip him a five pound note conspiratorially.
I remembered all of this and so was extra interested when I got to go in finally - magical. The most intimate, poignant and untouched little private museum ever!
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
A little update for you on the big chocolatey tour of GB.
I've decided to do the trip in 3 loops - big swirling sweeps of the land.
Phase 1 will take in all of London's surrounding counties, beginning on 10th April in Essex (what better a place to begin, hey?), curving round to Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Berks, Bucks, Herts and Beds. This will take 3 weeks.
I'm looking for anyone that knows anyone in those areas who wants to indulge in a bit of Choc Star secret supper action - and if there's somewhere to pitch my tent/plug the van in overnight then all's the better (got to learn how to pitch the tent but I guess this will come with time...).
Then I'm surging up north, through Leicestershire, Notts, Yorkshire, the North East - as far as possible (I want Glasgow, Edinburgh, Mull) and back down through Blackpool, Wigan, North Wales and the Midlands. This will be a 5 weeker.
Finally I'll go west (where the air is clean) to the tippy-toes of the Scilly Isles (got a great invite from some rowers!) and will fit my stomping grounds of Suffolk and Norfolk in at the beginning of July.
Phew! Hope Jimmy can cope. I can't wait.
Mull it over and if you have any brainwaves do let me know!
Thanks for the cocoa love. More soon.
Monday, 10 March 2008
I woke up to the soft sound of pin-prick rain on Friday. I wasn't worried though, matey at the weather channel had already declared the day would turn out nice...I wove through the traffic, gliding effortlessly from gear to gear, fully engaging with the possibilities brought to me by my new clutch - and then the sun decimated the last of the clouds and bore through with a vengeance. What a great day to bring the milkshake machine out of hibernation!
The Taste East organisers thought it would be great to put Jimmy next to the City Farm enclosure. There were sheep, a mini donkey, a Shetland pony and the biggest hen you've ever seen - talk about Big Momma's House, that bird let everybody in E1 know it was her time to shine...and then there were all these excited looking punters. It's what's so nice about going to a new spot, you get this fresh delight from people as well as surprise visits from those loyal to the cause from day dot.
Robin from Dos Hermanos staggered over claiming Man Flu, but was soon looking much more buoyant after a shot of Venezuelan hot chocolate - positively tittering he was at the last sighting; my Suffolk buddy Roland from Flaming Cactus then rolled up to chat summer festivals. He said I can swing by his commune-like homestead on my tour (he's from a pretty tripped out part of the county). Then came Will from The Boy Done Food, someone whose genuine love for food and cooking is so much fun to be around - that and the way he was sizing up the miniature donkey as a possible carriage to his next destination.
Vee-Vee helped me in the van and we really started knocking out some serious milkshakes: white chocolate & banana; Black & Whites; T.C.M.Bs. The hot chocolate floats worked well for those who go wild at the sight of that creamy scoop of vanilla surging up through the hot chocolate, settling at the top and gently rippling out its lightness into the dark.
And the truffles. A bicycle shop guy from over the road kept on coming back for more. He's half Venezuelan and seemed both thrilled to have made the discovery as well as a little shocked at his inability to limit it to just one visit.
I told him to enjoy the confusion and to make the most of it while he could, the main thing is to give yourself at least one treat every day, right?
Monday, 3 March 2008
I was so excited last night to see my favourite chocolate supplier doing his thing on Channel 4. Willie Harcourt-Cooze was one of my first contacts when I set up Choc Star and is responsible for introducing me to a world of chocolate that is...incendiary. It's the only word for it - the stuff seeps into your soul and plays tricks with your mind and, suddenly, makes you feel as though everything is right with the world.
I'm going to be serving up Venezuelan hot chocolate shots and some Super Dark High Energy truffles made with harvests from Willie's finca at Taste East this Friday and Saturday.
If you need a little pick-me-up come and find us by the farm - and if the weather's good we may start shaking some milk!