A Surprise Christmas Present

Today, I was minding my own business, helping my husband make up the Christmas Ocado order when the postman arrived. There were the usual cards and statements,  but also a small padded bag. I looked at the back and saw the name and address of my old friend and former primary school teacher, Evelyn. Many of you will have read my tribute to her earlier on in the year. She had emailed that she had sent me card and so I was expecting to see her writing any day soon, but not on a padded bag.

I opened it and out fell a hard object wrapped in bubblewrap. The envelope had originally come from a bead and crystal shop and I thought she had sent me a crystal for Christmas. I carefully unwrapped it and to my astonishment out fell a very old fountain pen and propelling pencil – do you remember those?!

I couldn’t speak. I sat there with my mouth wide open and nothing coming out. When it did it was ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ on a loop (my apologies to anyone offended by this) accompanied by my husband’s ‘What, what, WHAT?! I imagine we looked like a couple of goldfish in a bowl.

img_2735I held in my hand the very fountain pen and pencil Evelyn had used to mark the class register, write reports and letters to our parents, the same white and gold pen I had coveted all these years. I was only thinking about it quite recently and wondering if she still had it. And here was the set, looking a little the worse for wear, sitting in the palm of my hand. I was in shock.

This means so much to me, I don’t have the words to explain.

I looked inside the bag for a note, but all I found was a Christmas card wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017 followed by the words ‘Over half a century now!’

Nothing about the pen and pencil. I desperately wanted to speak to her. I tried Skyping but there was no response. She is probably at her sister’s for Christmas and I will have to contain my excitement and inquisitiveness until the New Year!

I don’t quite know why I was so fascinated by this pen. I loved the gold pattern on it and I loved the black Indian ink Evelyn filled it with. I was 9 years old and this was my first experience of a fountain pen at close quarters. I was inspired by it. I loved her handwriting, big and loopy, very informal, arty and friendly. I would recognise it anywhere. To me, this pen set was symbolic of her youth and style, it was modern, unusual, fun. It is so slim and light. It also looked very posh to my impoverished eyes!

I have always loved using a fountain pen and I can’t wait to clean this one out and see if it still works. Wouldn’t that be something, after all these years?!

Needless to say, my husband had to finish off the shopping list all on his own, he didn’t get any sense out of me for the rest of the day!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

GoGo Berry Fudge: So Decadent, It Should Be Illegal!

imagePlease Note: Since I wrote this recipe, The Raw Chocolate Company have stopped selling Goldenberries, if you can’t get them elsewhere or want a less tart fruit in the fudge, try apple juice-infused dried cranberries or dried apricots. Also, the sweet apricot kernel butter can be replaced with almond nut butter.

Grab a bag of Raw Chocolate Company Golden Berries* – or 2, you may find you want to snack a little as you work – and find some Belinda Carlisle and The GoGos (http://youtu.be/KjNZcGP-jAkto give your vocal chords a workout while you try out this simple recipe.

It is so decadent it should be illegal but it has protein, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and minerals. It’s so moreish I was advised by one family member not to leave it out!

This fudge makes a lovely gift if placed in an airtight tin – I used a tartan shortbread tin: line the base, cut 2 paper doillies in half and stick the straight edge of each half inside the top edges of the sides so they fold over the fudge. Keep the fudge chilled before placing in the tin at the last minute and seal around the edges before gift-wrapping.

This recipe also uses Sweet Apricot Kernel Butter – see earlier recipe Gettin’ Jiggy in the Kitchen – you could use any nut butter, but this will slightly alter the flavour.

(The Raw Chocolate Company products are specified because it was originally developed for their blog, you can of course use other brands, these are the ones we use as they are organic, fairtrade and excellent quality).

WARNING: I strongly advise you do this alone in the privacy of your own kitchen with no family members around or there could be an unseemly scrimmage to scrape out blender, bowl and utensils before you’ve even finished – and that should be your privilege!

Ingredients

1 Cup melted Raw Chocolate Company Cacao ButterTip: place the tub in a bowl of hot water while you get everything else together 
1 Cup Maple Syrup
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt
2 Tsp Raw Chocolate Company Lucuma Fruit Powder
1 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Cacao Powder
1 Cup Raw Sweet Apricot Kernel Butter (see above, or substitute with almond butter
1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Golden Berries
1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Goji Berries
Few Squares Raw Chocolate Company Pitch Dark Raw Chocolate

Method

(N.B. You need to work quickly before it starts setting).

Blend all ingredients except the Berries and Pitch Dark. I tried this in a small flask blender, but it didn’t work and I ended up transferring to a food processor, but a high speed blender is probably best.

Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Berries and some grated Pitch Dark.

Spread in a lined 8×8 tin

Grate some more Pitch Dark on top and refrigerate for half an hour – if you can wait that long!

Break into bite-size chunks – it is quite rich so a little goes a long way.

Tip: clean up as you go along, the cacao butter and fudge batter set quickly so wipe up any drips straightaway and put blender, bowl and utensils to soak as soon as you’re done with them, saves elbow grease later and gives you more time to indulge before you have to let in the hungry hordes.

*http://www.therawchocolatecompany.com

This recipe first appeared on The Raw Chocolate Company Blog in an edited form.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Birthday Celebration!

Niki’s campaign to raise $250 to buy winter clothing for a teenage boy whose mum is struggling fits so well with my latest post The Gift of Kindness At Christmas that I had to reblog it. Please help her achieve her goal of giving this family a much-needed boost this Christmas. All donations however small are gratefully received. Just click on the photo in her post to be taken to the GoFundMe website and leave your special message for this family.
I know there are many many people struggling this Christmas and we often feel overwhelmed and helpless, but this is one family you can help in a very practical way. Thank you for reading.

The Richness of a Simple Life

In honor of my birthday this week, I’d like to invite you to help me celebrate it by contributing to the family I’m sponsoring for Christmas this year. I’m hosting a campaign that you can be part of! A family is in need of winter clothing for their son and I thought that would be a great way to teach my children about the importance of being thankful for what we have as well as giving back.

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Roll Up, Roll Up, Roll Up! It’s Competition Time!

Drum Roll…

I am very over-excited because today I’m announcing a competition to win some of my favourite juicing accessories – I wonder if you can guess which?

(Clue: They have featured in several of my juicy/nut milk posts!)

No purchase necessary!

Just check back on Friday for details of the prize and how to enter – there are two ways to give yourself a chance to win.

Go on, what have you got to lose?

 Pass it on…

???????????

 

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Simple Make-Your-Own Raw Chocolate: 3 Recipes for the Weekend

 

Raw Dark Vanutte Hearts, Flowers and Stars

A busy day today! Belatedly inspired to make some raw chocolate for Valentine’s Day, I devised not 1, not 2, but 3 recipes for different palates. They are very simple to make: once you’ve got the cacao butter melted and measured, it takes seconds to mix together and then all you need to do is pour and freeze.

For the first batch, we used the basic recipe on the back of The Raw Chocolate Company Cacao Powder & Coconut Palm Sugar then added a twist.

(We use their products because they are Organic, Raw, Fair Trade and Excellent Quality. Apart from the bars and cacao butter, most of their products come in Resealable Bags and the new packaging is Recyclable too!)

This version is very dark, coconut palm sugar is not like refined sugar, it is much more subtle. You may also want to grind it a little finer so that it blends more easily.

Remember, Raw Chocolate is very rich and you won’t eat as much at once as you would if it were commercial chocolate.

Note: As always, we tend to do things by eye and taste, so measurements are inevitably approximate.

First, cover a baking tray with greaseproof paper and have some small cookie shapes ready. Heat up some water to melt the cacao butter in a small bowl in order to measure it if it’s in a block or if it’s broken up into small pieces you can put it straight into the bowl with the cacao powder and coconut palm sugar.

Ingredients

90g Raw Cacao Butter

60g Raw Cacao Powder

60g Coconut Palm Sugar

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

Approx 3 Tbsp Finely Chopped Raw Almonds (We actually forgot to measure. Just sprinkled them on!)

Method

Melt Cacao Butter and add to Cacao Powder and Coconut Palm Sugar in a bowl over a pan of hot but not boiling water.

Stir until sugar is dissolved and everything is thoroughly mixed and smooth. Add Vanilla Extract and stir in well.

Pour into moulds on parchment-lined tray or directly onto parchment. If the latter, roll the tray around to make the chocolate spread.

Sprinkle with chopped almonds and lightly press into mixture.

Freeze until hard.

Carefully press out of moulds or break up the flat chocolate into pieces. It is best left in the freezer until required. We portion them up so we can just take out the amount we need and the chocolate doesn’t start melting while you break it up or sort out how much you want.

Vanutte Chunks

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Sweet Mulberry Raw Chocolate 

This second recipe is sweeter as it has raw maple syrup in, children might prefer it, although it is still dark.

As before, have some moulds ready on a parchment covered tray.

Ingredients

25mls Melted Raw Cacao Butter

15g Raw Cacao Powder

25mls Raw Maple Syrup

10g Cashew Pieces

10g Dried Mulberries, de-stalked and broken up

 Method

Mix together Cacao Butter, Maple Syrup and Cacao Powder in a bowl over a pan of hot but not boiling water until well blended.

Mix in Cashews and Mulberries and pour or spoon mixture into moulds, or pour mix into moulds and add nuts and mulberries on top – this will probably give you more shapes, we did it the first way and it made the mixture very thick.

It only made about 6 small shapes that were quite thick, so adjust amounts accordingly if you have a lot of chocolatey mouths to fill!

Freeze and store as before. (They are on the right of the photo below – we tried one first!)

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Sweet ‘n’ Sour Raw Chocolate Chunks

Recipe Number 3 is also sweet and as there are so many different tastes in our family we thought we would cover all bases and add some sweet and sour dried fruit as well as the nuts to this one!

My husband loves raisins but the younger family members won’t eat them so he can have that row all to himself! I love dried Golden Berries, they have a sweetly tart flavour that I can’t resist, so there’s a row of those for me. In the middle are cashew pieces and dried mulberries.

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Ingredients

30mls Melted Cacao Butter

30mls Raw Maple Syrup

20g Raw Cacao Powder

Handful of Raisins

Handful Golden Berries

 Handful of Cashew Pieces

 Method as before, but pour onto parchment in a tray and roll around to spread it out, then sprinkle the other ingredients in rows to cover the whole area and press in lightly.

Freeze and store as before. (We were able to keep the rows separate once solid by gently using a knife in a sawing motion and then breaking them up).

With all these recipes you can add different flavours. Some like mint, orange – even chilli!

Ps Here’s a whimsical music video By Death By Chocolate. Enjoy!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Passing It Forward

Many years ago, a good friend was visiting from overseas with her young daughters. Of course, despite only being September, the weather was wet, grey and chilly. She observed me struggling to dry the family’s clothes on a plastic airer in front of a heating vent on the wall of our tiny kitchen. There was nowhere else to dry them and we had problems with condensation and damp.

My friend insisted on buying us a drier. It made life so much easier and I never forgot her generosity.

Several years later, when our circumstances were much improved, I became aware that another friend, a lone parent with a young child, was in difficulties: her ancient fridge freezer had finally given up the ghost and she had no money to replace it.

I gladly offered to buy her a new one.

I was, as the Americans phrase it, ‘passing it forward’ and it felt good to repay the original act of kindness in this way. I knew the second friend would do the same when she was able.

These gifts were expensive but much-appreciated, they enhanced the lives of the recipients for a very long time.

But it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – or even any money – to Pass It Forward.

Next time you do a clear-out of your wardrobe, your loft, your children’s toys, your shed or garage, think carefully about who might benefit from your passing it on. The local charity shops will welcome clean, useable clothing, toys, kitchenware and so on, many even take small working electrical goods. Playgroups and nurseries are sometimes short of good quality toys, books and play equipment. Women’s Refuges are often crying out for clothing and baby equipment.

We sometimes send books and refurbished bikes to our local Combat Stress centre.

Occasionally, we put an item at our gate with a note saying ‘free if you take it away’ or a serviced secondhand bike with a minimal price on which is donated to our local hospice.

Remember all those times when you were in need and someone helped you out, then pass it forward when your circumstances allow it. It can even just be the giving of your time.

I promise you, the recipient won’t be the only one who benefits.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Compassion is Good for Our Health

In the light of the terrible mass shooting in Orlando, I decided to reblog the post on compassion and well-being which I adapted after the attacks in Paris at the end of last year. I am not American or gay and I don’t know enough of the facts or the context to feel qualified to write a separate post, other than as a human being horrified by such actions and the ease with which people can obtain weapons and carry out these targeted, violent acts against people just trying to live their authentic lives. My thoughts are the same as after Paris and they are with all those affected by this and other such tragedies. (And today, June 16th,  one of our own has had her life cut short and her family has lost a precious woman who worked to improve the lot of others).

When one hurts, we all hurt.

*

Some of the most poignant and remarkable acts of compassion are often performed by those to whom Fate has dealt some very unlucky cards: children with terminal cancer raising money and awareness from their hospital beds, severely injured veterans taking part in sporting events to raise funds to provide equipment and support for their colleagues, the bereaved parents of a teenage addict providing education and support for young people. It is well-documented that those with the least resources are often the most generous.

Doing something positive to help others can often provide a way out of our own dark place, it can help raise our spirits, lift our heads and enable us to see a way forward.

 Expressing compassion and empathy is not only beneficial for the recipient, but for the giver too: being kind produces oxytocin which reduces anxiety and depression, strengthens the immune system and helps control the effects of stress. It also stimulates the vegas nerve which controls inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is believed to be a major factor in developing chronic diseases and ageing.

When we help one another, we all benefit.

At this particular time of year, there are many people for whom compassion would be the best gift of all: newly-arrived refugee families being resettled into the community; people rendered homeless through losing a job, their relationship, their home; young people on the street because they are not welcome in their family home; those subject to physical or emotional abuse; elderly or disabled people left isolated, with little support.

Yet recent newspaper headlines, government polemics and negative online comments concerning an ‘influx’ of refugees, fear of potential terrorists based on little else but a person’s cultural or religious background and so on, might lead an alien visitor to Earth to conclude that compassion is currently in short supply. When our circumstances change for the worse, when money is in short supply or illness strikes, when we fear for the safety of our loved ones, it is understandable that our concerns are for our own well-being and that of our families. Life can seem overwhelmingly difficult. There can be little room for considering the lot of others.

But consider recent events in Paris. At an international football match, once fierce national rivals -both teams and fans of all racial and cultural backgrounds – came together, arms around each other and sang La Marseillaise, in a stirring and defiant display of unity reminiscent of the famous scene in the film Casablanca, when French citizens drowned out drunken Nazi singing with a powerful and emotional rendition of their own national anthem.

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Ultimately, we are more alike than we are different.

I would like to express my depest condolences to all those affected by these recent events, either directly or indirectly.

I believe that compassion is innate in all of us: when one of us hurts, we all hurt.

Coming together, pooling resources, sharing our time, experience and compassion is how we pull through.

In The Art of Happiness,* HH Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness and happiness is ultimately achieved through compassion for others. It is a principle by which I have tried to live my life.

Compassion is good for our collective health.

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*The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by HH The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Easton Press, 1998

Copyright: Chris McGowan