Handmade Holidays: Trufflemaking at Chocolate Tales

115Ever since I tried handmaking chocolate a year or so ago with the kids, my eyes (and tastebuds) have been more alert to the possibilities of creating with chocolate. So when the opportunity to try a different route to making chocolate treats crossed my bath through the blog, I knew I was in.  Chocolate Tales and I booked a date for a trufflemaking workshop midtown at The Mad Bean, and we were off to the chocolate races.

Our workshop began with a history of chocolate, which for hundreds of years was consumed as a beverage.  The Aztecs ground the beans and drank a really strong, unsweetened version of chocolate – apparently Montezuma drank 10 cups of this a day.  It was also given to human victims before they were sacrificed, supposedly for the calming effects of serotonin and theobromine.  Personally I find it hard to believe that this could have had much effect but maybe that’s just me.

This grisly historical lesson out of the way, we could start focusing on the here and now (thank goodness).  We were working with high quality couverture chocolate, which gets all its fat from cocoa butter.  This is contrasted with compound chocolate, where the fat comes from fat substitutes – usually oils – and it’s difficult to temper because different oils have different burn points – this chocolate sometimes shows a white film which indicates it’s not properly tempered.  It can still be tasty – which is why most of us enjoy a good Kit Kat every now and then – but it’s more a candy than chocolate.

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At the Chocolate Tales workshop, we were messing around with the real thing, ie. the couverture chocolate.  Our stations were laid out tidily with rows of hollow chocolate spheres, and the various tools we’d be using to fill these into Belgian truffles, as well as to make French truffles out of slabs of ganache.  There was a giant bowl of melted chocolate on a double boiler at the front, which was ladled into plastic bags that we used as icing tubes.  With tips on how to best fill our chocolate spheres (try to fill it without air gaps, which reduce shelf life, for eg.), we set to work.

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I couldn’t take pics of us messing around with chocolate, but mess is the operative word here… we were given aprons and gloves for a reason.  Melted chocolate gushed out of bags and outside of our little chocolate receptables and into our trays (and up into our mouths).  After letting our filled chocolates cool, we set about enrobing them.  The technique for this is to paint your hand with chocolate, and then roll the truffle into our palms to cover it with melted chocolate, then repeat.  The gloves came in handy here to keep the mess at bay, but I wanted to feel this experience all the way so I removed my gloves (I was the only one).  There’s something luscious and decadent and playful about doing this with your bare hands, and although I spent a spell in the bathroom trying to get all the chocolate off afterwards, it was worth it.

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We all left satisfied, and possibly a little dizzy from eating chocolate spills and leftovers, with a stack of Belgian and French truffles to go, packaged prettily in decorative bags and a gift box.  It was a friendly group, led by a friendly facilitator, creating a perfectly pleasant way to spend a Tuesday night.

Trufflemaking is just one of a range of workshops offered by Chocolate Tales – there’s something for the sweet tooth in all of us.  One thing I’d mention… when I arrived at the workshop I thought we would be making chocolate from scratch, but the facilitator explained this process and it’s not at all workable for the end result sought – the process takes too long, is too complicated, and too mechanized.  It’s possible to make a simple handmade chocolate as I did, but it won’t have the professional and consistent qualities that you and I normally associate with a truffle.  The workshops are about working with the basic components of chocolate and putting them together in personalized and delicious ways.

I knew I would enjoy this DIY workshop but hadn’t thought of what a nice experiential gift this could make until I saw the friends and couples there, and sat down next to a mother who gifted this workshop to her teenage daughter.  They were completely engaged with each other and the activity, and the daughter may have had just a bit of a glow when she left.  I thought of my 13 year old niece, and I come December 25, she and I may be poised for more chocolate love.

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Ross Petty’s Cinderella – A Great Gift of Experience

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There’s a reason why Ross Petty‘s holiday pantomimes are a treasured annual tradition (their 19th year!) there’s nothing quite like it for geared-to-children but still lots-for-the-adults theatrical fun.  I was delighted when the Yummy Mummy Club gifted us tickets to this year’s production, Cinderella, The Gags to Riches Family Musical – I knew it would deliver lots of high-energy entertainment and that my three boys would totally enjoy it.

It’s not everyday that a parent can, with complete comfort and a warm sense of welcome, take an 8, 6 and 3 year old to a two hour show at the glorious Elgin Theatre.  This alone was a huge treat, but there’s a lot more to this particular kind of adventure.  If you’re looking for a special holiday present, one that focuses on experiences that last rather than things that don’t, check out the show.  Here’s why:

1.  The show takes the art of silliness to new heights.  There are few tones of distress in the show (which is nice for sensitive viewers) largely because the villains are preposterous.  Patty Sullivan and Cleopatra Williams portray the punky step-sisters as perfectly pestering and Ross Petty himself is in top form as Cinderella’s evil stepmother.  Together with Dan Chameroy as fairy godmother Plumbum, the two actors offer strapping renditions of these maternal characters – their towering, absurd presence on the stage provides a backdrop of humour even when they’re not centre stage.

2.  There’s magic too.  Spoiler alert, okay?  There’s a lot of goofy, slapstick humour in the show, but there is also some stardust.  The apex of these is Cinderella’s transportation to the ball.  Two small white horses pull a spherical carriage onstage, and it really is an apparition, a moment of wonder.

3.  The show is Canadian!  Ross Petty purposely focuses on great Canadian talent, including the inimitable Danielle Wade, star of CBC’s Over the Rainbow and the Mirvish production of The Wizard of Oz.  Also, the show is set in Toronto and full of references to our great city – the great ball is held at none other than Casa Loma.  Lots of jokes poke fun at local politics and culture (pretty sure I caught a poke at Ford Nation, among others).

4.  There’s something for everyone.  In addition to the adult humour just mentioned, there’s lots here for the boys as well as the girls in the audience.  The princess theme is still there but muted, and the gags are for everyone.  Recall the evil step-mother and the fairy godmother when considering the dissolution of boundaries, which the show does left, right, and centre.  Did I mention that Cinderella is trying to save her father’s Farmer’s Market from her step-family’s plans to overtake it with processed hypno-chips?

5.  Children are VIPs here.  Not only do you not have to worry about shushing your kids, you’ll be encouraging them to cheer and boo!  Petty-the-stepmother cannot take two steps on stage without being booed down, and responds to the audience for some direct theatrical interaction.  A few lucky kids climbed onstage and were interviewed for the show.  Some of the younger audience members were flopping around in their chairs, especially after intermission, and it was just fine.  Also, booster seats are available downstairs at the coat check – two of my kids used those (although one ended up on my lap in the end – also just fine (no one’s view was blocked)).

6.  You Get to Introduce Your Kids to the Theatre.  The Elgin Theatre is gorgeous and grand.  It was not designed with children in mind, and the opportunity to expose our kids to that kind of venue is a big thing.  I wish I’d taken more time to point out details of the theatre – the balconies, where the orchestra sits, the way the curtains fall, the art on the ceilings – but I was outnumbered three to one so I’m not going to dwell.  Even so, my boys knew they were somewhere special; their eyes were wide open and took everything in.

I watched my kids during the show (of course).  My favourite moment of the night was when my six year old tugged my sleeve and then clapped his hands lightly together with the tips of his fingers pointed upward.  This is my theatre clap,” he explained.

That moment, along with my eight year old proclaiming on the way home that he’d like to see Cinderella again, holds the essence of the night for me.  It was fun and entertaining, and it was a beginning.  If my boys go to the theatre more often because of it – and dare I hope, maybe even sometimes with me – it really will be the best show in town.

Cinderella, The Gags to Riches Family Musical! will be live on stage at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto until January 4, 2015.  Tickets range from $85 to $27 and are available online and through the Elgin Theatre box office.  Special discount codes available for Yummy Mummy Club members here

Memorable Quotes on Dreams

You’ve heard what 4Mothers has to say about our dreams… here is what some slightly (ahem) better known writers have to say about it.  Thanks for joining us this week – have a great weekend!

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The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dreams.

Kahlil Gibran

 

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.

I had riches too great to count, could boast
Of a high ancestral name;
But I also dreamt, which pleas’d me the most,
That you loved me still the same.

Alfred Burns, The Bohemian Girl

 

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

 

I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Loving My Dreams, Even If They Scare Me

I love dreaming.  Not daydreams, but the ones that come at night, deep in sleep.  I can’t always remember my dreams, but they’re vivid and striking and exciting to me – often complete contrasts to my quite regular life.

This is true even though occasionally my dreams scare me, sometimes in repetitive I-know-just-what-gets-her ways.  For instance, I have recurring dreams of going to university and getting my degree twice, realizing only in my second fourth year that I already got this degree and I have wasted a full four years of my life.  Or I’ll arrive at my finals completely unprepared, or I’ll forget the days of the exams, or not realize that I should have taken a course that I can’t graduate without.

Stress, people.  Can I tell you that I’ve actually gotten to a place with these dreams that I can recognize them – sometimes I’m able to tell myself in the dream that it’s just a dream, you’ve been in this dream before.  Or don’t worry about failing all those sets of university exams because you’re already a lawyer.  I am?  I am!  What a relief, you know?

I’ve googled studied precisely nothing about this and don’t want to know more about the doings of my brain.  I don’t want any dream analysis; you may know more about my dreams’ significance than I do, and that’s just fine by me.  In my little sleepyhead, dreams are mysterious and magical (if a little menacing), and I’d like to keep it that way.

The truth is, no matter how good (or bad) a day I’ve had, I almost invariably anticipate with pleasure the time when I lie down, those moments before sleep when, for better or for worse, you have lived the day, and the matter is closed.  Part of the reward is then rest and sleep.  But I also wonder:  what adventure waits tonight?

And I don’t think it’s just me.  One of the prizes of sleeping with the kids is being awoken by them laughing really, really hard while completely asleep.  I wonder what they’re dreaming about, of course, but mostly it doesn’t matter; I just laugh along like a crazy conscious person.  Laughter then becomes the lullaby for re-entering my own dream world, and all is well at night.

Do you remember your dreams?

At Issue: Dreams

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It’s getting colder here in Toronto, and last week was frigid.  The day starts later and ends earlier, the dark lasts longer.  It’s not just a season of spending more time inside, but for many, also a time of turning inward.

Do you find yourself getting dreamy this time of year?  If you have young children, you know they almost live half in dream, in a world all their own.  What about you – do you daydream, nightdream, or anything in between?

This week, 4Mothers jumps into the world of dreams… see you there!

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Guest Interview: April Nicolle on Oral Storytelling

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4Mothers is delighted to present the following interview with April Nicolle as our guest for this week’s topic of Bedtime Stories. April is the Storyteller in Residence at a Toronto District School Board school where she tells stories to children from kindergarten to Grade 8 as part of their curriculum. She also is a storyteller at Evergreen Brick Works where she shares stories of the history and adventures found in the Don Valley. April can be heard at various other locations throughout the city, including many of the local libraries and other schools including the Waldorf Academy. April is an executive member of Storytellers for Children.

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What inspired you to become a storyteller?

My sister Heather was a puppeteer and a Waldorf teacher, and oral storytelling is an important component of Waldorf education. I’d attend storytelling events with my sister and was an active listener for ten years before telling stories myself – I had a baby so had more reasons than ever to start.

What were your favourite stories as a child?

My grandfather was Irish, and I’d have to say that the Irish folktales are probably my favourite.  I always believed that little people existed; they are so magical and mystical, especially as they lived in the wild.

Do you have a favourite stories now?

I’m rediscovering the Brothers Grimm stories.  They are fascinating, and as my daughter gets older, they’re helping us on the journey from childhood to adulthood – for my daughter travelling that journey, and me as a parent to that transformation.  Through the stories, we can talk and acknowledge the challenges, which are not necessarily bad, but they are there.

Usually I tell these stories rather than read them (although I do read to my daughter also).  I’m actually in the process of writing modernized versions of the Grimm stories for adults, and share them through festivals, Toronto Public Library programs, and different seasonal programs.

What are the differences between storytelling and reading stories, and why is storytelling important?

With a written story, it’s only told with one voice – the author’s voice.  You can bring in more elements to an oral story, including things from your own life so there is more scope for personal participation.  Oral storytelling connects directly to everyone’s imagination and a whole inner world of dreaming and understanding.

I’m also doing research on lost and forgotten stories, and you can take pieces from different storytellers and create a story from that.  Oral storytelling can open up and address the omissions in written stories, so that a girl can be the hero not always the princess who is saved.

Storytelling can tell the stories that publishers don’t publish, the stories that have been overlooked or excluded.  There are so many fables that haven’t been shared.  For example, Leonardo da Vinci had his own collection of fables – in his time period he was known first as storyteller before an inventor or painter.  Then there are the fables of Eastern cultures and animal stories found in Aboriginal cultures, which are easy for children to understand and adults to relate to.  Shorter stories are easier to start with and you can expand from there.

Culturally, we don’t take the time to sit and listen to stories.  I’ve been teaching for almost 10 years at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, an Aboriginal post-secondary arts school – I teach technical theatre and stage combat there.  I can sit and listen to the students and Elders tell stories in their languages.  As a listener I can still understand the story through gesture and facial expressions, and I am happy to take away from the story what I can.  An oral story can be told to an audience different ages and based on their different life experiences, people will take away different things.

Has telling stories changed for you over time?

Yes, very much so.  I started telling more traditional children’s stories, lap rhymes, and finger plays.  When I became involved with opening a school focused on holistic education, the value of oral tradition was recognized.  The teachers brought forth their curriculum and I would create a complementary oral storytelling component and help deliver it.  Through workshops and observing me, many of the teachers now tell stories themselves in the classroom.

What advice do you have to adults who would like to try oral storytelling?

Go for the familiar.  Look around the room.  If you’re lying in bed at night, maybe the story starts with, “There was a boy named [your son’s name] and he looked out of the window and saw stars. He decided to take a trip on one…”  Then go from there.  Ask your child to help you – they love to participate.  As parents, we tell stories all the time. It’s not as foreign or as separate as we make it.

What advice do you have to children who would like to try oral storytelling?

They don’t need advice – they know how to do it.  Just expose them to as many stories,  in written or in oral form,   as possible.

Where can I learn more about oral storytelling?

Storytellersforchildren.ca - hosts Friday night storytelling every fourth Friday of the month at Pegasus Studios – everyone in the circle gets to tell a story.  The next one is on November 28th.

* The Great Big Afternoon of Storytelling at Riverdale Farm – Saturday June 6th, 2015.

* Three Wishes Festival Toronto – June 12-13, 2015 – offers family workshops and lots of storytelling events.

StorytellingToronto.org – A storytelling school in Toronto that run workshops for storytellers and hosts the largest two week storytelling festival in Canada – March 20-29th, 2015.

* Open Door at St. David’s and Mosaic Storytelling Festival – a storytelling festival held in the winter months at St. David’s in the east end of Toronto

* Parent-Child Mother Goose – runs good programs in west end Toronto

Sally Jaeger programs

* And check out your local library for special storytelling events

Loving Bedtime Stories (or Maybe Something Else)

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I’m a diehard for bedtime stories.  It’s a rare night when they’re missed in our house, and that’s usually because we’re coming home really late from some outside adventure, and kids are either asleep or so tired they might as well be.  I’ll fight for this window of storytime against competing needs, and I’m not the only one.  My boys are mystified if something interferes with their stories, and I’ve discovered that even if it really isn’t the right time for a bedtime story, it’s often the path of least resistance to sleep to just read a quick one – just scratch the itch – and then settle everyone into bed.

It’s nice to now that bedtime stories are supposedly good for children in many ways, but I can tell you that the ritual at our house is based on pleasure – mine as much as the boys.  I have three very energetic sons, but they settle quietly right into me during storytime in bed and listen to all kinds of stories, even when the boys are quite a distance for the target audience (our age ranges from 3 to 8).  I love it.

Reading up on bedtime stories for this week’s conversation here at 4Mothers, I felt like I should have been really enthusiastic that our nighttime reading ritual is so highly touted by the experts as producing smarter, more intuitive, more attached, more imaginative children.  Maybe it’s my mood, and maybe I’m prickly, but it kind of got my back up.  It somehow struck me as another might-as-well-be-mandatory requirement of parents, one of those tangible ways we can prove how good we are at parenting, and we do.

But there are so many kinds of parents out there, and so many kinds of parenting.  In university I volunteered with an organization that tutored adults who couldn’t read and write well for any number of reasons – learning disabilities, falling through the cracks at school, surviving much bigger life issues than literacy.  I remember one student was a tall, good-looking musician whose young son was reading better than he could, and the father sought literacy tutoring in hopes of sharing more of his son’s life.  Improving literacy skills as an adult is usually a long process that takes a lot of dedicated time, and I don’t know how far this student got; it’s quite likely that he wouldn’t have been able to match pace with the learning of a young child for whom reading comes easily.

That father may not be reading bedtime stories to his child but I think there’s every chance he’s an ace father.  I just feel like giving a shout-out to him and other parents who don’t read their kids bedtime stories (even if they are literate to the nines), in case they’re feeling down about it.  Because maybe you do other things instead.  Maybe you run with them everyday instead, or drive two hours on the weekend to make sure they know their grandparents.  Maybe you have a long fuse, or you’ve got a short fuse but you’re working on it.  Maybe you have a quiet understanding with your child that she is loved completely.

Books and bedtime are so amazing – I love them so much.  I just want to make sure that love isn’t pushing anyone else around, because it’s a big, beautiful world out there, and books are just one part of it.

Talking About Bedtime Stories

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Given that November on 4Mothers revolves loosely around the theme of sleep, it was  easy for us to decide upon a theme for this week – we’ll all be writing about bedtime stories.

Do you engage in this nighttime ritual?  Proponents can’t say enough about the benefits of bedtime stories, but not everyone does it.  Parents and children reading together at the close of day has a special place in many hearts, although it’s so easy to imagine other beautiful nighttime practices – I remember feeling breathless when Judy Collins lovingly recounted at a Unique Lives event that when she was a girl, her father would sing her to sleep every night.

So what is the magic of bedtime stories?  Is it the togetherness or the stories or the brainy-ness or just the do-ableness of it?  Do you do something altogether different that works better for your family?

Were you read to as a child, and do you read to your children now?  What are your favourite bedtime reads, when you were young, and now that you’re not so young anymore?  This and more this week at 4Mothers.  Stay tuned.

Bedridden, and Glad About It

Twelve years ago, in a life I can still remember but rarely think about, I was in an accident and sustained compression fractures in my spine.  A year off work and a lot of good fortune later, I made a full recovery.

A full recovery is not the same as having my old back though; it’s not the same as it once was.  It’s sensitive now, protests more, will not stay silent if I ignore it.  Finding out the hard way, I realized that I needed to care for my back with stretching and strengthening or it would seize.  And mostly I felt lucky that such basic interventions could go so far with a back with well-earned trust issues.

But I fell off the wagon with this a few months ago, and my back started to hurt, sometimes enough to prevent sleep.  With the embarrassment of a slow learner, I confess I did nothing about this.  It’s true that I was extremely busy.  But I should have known.

I dropped my children off at school on Monday morning and bent over while trying to clean up the kitchen.  I have been in bed almost continuously since.

People who don’t have back trouble (including me pre-accident) don’t quite understand what it means.  The back hurts, yes, but it also means you can’t walk, lift your arm, turn your head, or cough.  Everything stops.

It’s wildly inconvenient.  In addition to the predictable whatever for dinner and sending children to school without socks and spousal double-duty and help from family and friends, there were other consequences.  I was so looking forward to attending a soapmaking workshop at my new store on Tuesday, and this blog presented the chance to attend a kids’ event so enticing that I informed my kids’ school two weeks ago that they’d miss school on Wednesday afternoon.  I couldn’t go to anything, of course.  Everything stopped.

And yet.  Bored and bedridden and in pain, yet I have to confess to another real feeling these past few days:  relief.  Life has been something of a runaway train lately, and I am doing my best to keep my head about me while riding it.  For the moment, I can’t (or won’t) get off – I’ve assessed and re-assessed everything I’m doing, and I don’t want to give anything up.  It’s exciting but, well, I’m not really in control of this ride.

Lying down, with time moving more slowly at least for a little while, has been a reprieve, a relaxing of my hold on things.  It’s temporary, and hardly a vacation.  But it is a pause, and I find myself, somewhat incredibly, grateful for it.

I’m suspicious sometimes, of just how much the mind and body are in cohoots… did my body just do for me what my mind wouldn’t do but perhaps should have?  All I know is that when I finish writing this, I’m going back to bed to rest, and to sleep, because there’s nothing else I can do, and I’m kind of glad of it.