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February 2005 Archives

February 4, 2005

Serena Ryder at Revival

Because I'm in one of my occasional 'buy tickets to anything that looks remotely interesting' moods lately, I picked up tickets to see Serena Ryder at the Revival last night. I've been hearing about the great and wonderous Serena from P2er Richard Flohil for months and months now, but I rather tend not to put too much faith in the opinion of one person, especially if he gets paid to hold it (sorry, Richard!). I'd picked up a copy of her CD, Unlikely Emergency a few weeks back, and found it to be pretty listenable, though, so decided to give the show a shot.

Went early, still didn't get a place to sit, so stood through the entire set of the very unfortunate opening act. I'm told he has a day job, which is probably a good thing for him. Not that he was entirely lacking in talent, but he seemed almost to be a caricture of a singer-songwriter rather than an actual singer-songwriter. I attributed this largely to his drunkeness on stage, but apparently it's his shtick. Too much cheap beer, deliberate overacting, whatever it is, it ain't working.

Serena, on the other hand, is something else. I've heard some absolute goddesses sing live, but I've not been that blown away by a show since the first time I saw Neko. Her voice, presence and good humour really shine through on the stage.

She opened with an a capella Melancholy Blue that was heartbreaking. She has one of those angelic voices - where the angel's been spending a little too much time with the sacramental wine. My favourite singers are women with powerful voices that they push to the edges. Strong, assertive voices with just enough heartache behind them. Serena is, without a doubt, one of these.

Laying down a show that was variably accoustic, electric and a capella, Serena was graceful and witty from the stage. There were some technical difficulties - microphones that were off, guitars that needed a fair stretch of tuning - but it was all handled well. Indeed, her "I'm making you all listen to me tune my guitar" ditty was quite amusing. Her demeanour is assured and confident, but not cocky or overly aggressive. Her vocal range is broad, and she hits bright highs and deep, dark lows equally well.

Covers included Natural Woman, Lovesick Blues and an a capella At Last that must have been spiritually channelling Etta James. The a capella tracks on Unexpected Emergency are a couple of my least favourite, but
I see now that it's only because the blazing force of her performance doesn't come across my cheap speakers.

It was also a real pleasure to have finally met up with Richard. He and his business partner Laurie are both gracious, friendly people, and I enjoyed talking to them. It was particularly interesting to get some background information on Serena from Richard. He's like a proud papa when he talks about her, it's really cute. Plus, he promised to send me a disc from one of the other artists he works with, which marks my first ever music industry schwag!

Relevent Links:

Serena Ryder
Richard Flohil

February 7, 2005

Daughters of Freya

I've been reading Daughters of Freya for the last couple of weeks. It's a mystery; not a novel, really, but a story that's played out across emails to and from the main character. You get these emails in your inbasket a few times throughout the day over the course of about 3 weeks.

It has, thus far, been an absolutely fascinating experience. The writers have done a few things exceptionally well.

First of all, they've crafted wonderful voices for the characters in their emails. Journalist Sam's emails are tightly written and grammatically correct, but a little more casual when she's talking to her husband than when she's talking to her publisher. Publisher Jane's emails are business-like, even when they're personal. Son Max's emails are written in lower case and lack a lot of basic punctuation. Sam's mother's emails are written like letters but suggest just a hint of inexperience with computer things. There are even some interesting research results that are as badly formatted as every electronic plane ticket you've ever received. And then there are the mysterious brown backgrounded emails that are short and opaque but must be important.

Secondly, they've created a sense of tension and momentum. Because the emails come periodically, and on their timeline, you can't jump ahead in the story. Want to find out how it ends? That's really just too bloody bad, isn't it? You'll get the end in another week and a half. As someone who instituted a 'no novels on work nights' rule because I couldn't restrain myself from staying up all night to find out how they end, I find this both frustrating and fascinating. I have a few friends who subscribed at similar times and are reading along with me. The waiting and chatting and speculating, coupled with the joyous IMs of 'New Freya!' whenever we get one of the precious emails, make a communal experience out of something that is ordinarily a very solitary activity.

Additionally, they've worked in sub-plots nicely. It would be easy in this format to have the story stay strictly focused on the mystery at hand, ignoring the sub-plots that give a normal novel texture and heft. In this case, sub-plots about the relationships amongst the various players are woven into the fabric of the story. Some gradually gain importance and actually become central to the plot, and others, at least until now, have remained on the sidelines only.

They've also supplemented the emails nicely with other information. Links to websites with more information, the text of the stories that Sam has written, photos of the participants are all included. Most importantly, however, they're included in a natural way. A friend passes on a picture she took at a reunion lunch. A source throws in a link to some more information on the web. They don't have that 'click here' sense of being extraneous information that was rushed in on the side. The details on these is well crafted, as well. Sam's credit card bill contains not only things which are germaine to the case, but extra bits. She shops at a real high end grocer in Toronto, she has her recurring broadband internet charges on her statement.

Daughters of Freya is well worth a read for anyone who enjoys mysteries or just wants to get more email amidst their spam. At CAD$10, it's less than the price of most novels, and a great deal more fun.

Knit One, Crochet Two?

I found this link on boingboing, and the whole thing is amusing. Most amusing, at least to me, is the fact that while the article goes on and on about the whole thing being knit, the first picture depicts a cake that is clearly crocheted. The tea cups appear to be crochet, as well.

February 24, 2005

Chocolate Truffles

The recipe I use is based on some changes I've made to the version described by Kim O'Donnell of the WashingtonPost in her What's Cooking Video Segment.

It's a great resource if you're a visual learner and would appreciate the chance to see the process of making truffles before you try it yourself. The instructions and recipes included below are heavily modified from her original.

Chocolate truffles are a well-set ganache - chocolate and cream (or other dairy), plus flavours. There's a lot of variety to be had in how you play with the flavours and what you add.

The most important element of your truffles is going to be your chocolate. It's possible to make truffles with inexpensive chocolate, and they'll be okay, but they won't be great. It's possible to make truffles with light chocolate, and they'll be okay, but they won't be great. For really good truffles, you need really good chocolate. I have variously used Valrhona, El Rey and Callebaut chocolates to make my truffles. Callebaut is the cheapest of the three, and I don't find the step up to the higher prices really makes a significant difference in the finished product. As long as you're using a good quality chocolate, it needn't be the best quality. You're looking to buy Couverture, it comes usually in blocks, but sometimes in pastilles, which look easier to work with, but aren't, really. Make sure you get something that is at least 50% cocoa solids, but I don't tend to go a lot higher than that, as people prefer slightly lighter chocolates. 50-75% is the range to work with. Good chocolate will tell you what percentage of solids it contains on the original package, if it has been subdivided and repacked in deli wrap and doesn't say, ask. (Whole Foods does this, a lot).

Ingredients are for a single batch. You can make multiple batches, but it gets a lot trickier on the timing. I recommend that if you want to make lots of truffles, you still work with about these quantities at one time, otherwise you'll never get them all rolled before they start to melt, etc.

Ingredients for regular truffles, makes 42-48 truffles at 2 WW pts each:
16 ounces of chocolate
6 ounces of heavy cream
1/4 cup of sugar.
1 ounce butter
1.5 - 2 ounces of liquid flavouring. If you use a powdered flavouring, or something heavily concentrated, then replace this liquid content with more cream.

Ingredients for diet truffles, makes 42-48 truffles at 1 WW pt each:
16 ounces of chocolate
6 ounces of no-fat condensed milk.
1/4 cup of Splenda
1/2 ounce of butter
1.5 - 2 ounces of liquid flavouring.

The instructions are the same for both, just use milk where the instructions say cream for the diet truffles.

Chop your chocolate into a shallow, wide, metal mixing bowl. This doesn't need to be too finely chopped, and will be a mix of shavings and pieces. Try to keep the largest pieces below the size of a large pea. If you don't want to chop that finely, don't worry about it too much, we'll fix the problems the larger grained chop causes later, anyway.

Heat your cream, the sugar, plus flavourings if appropriate (vanilla pods or any dried flavourings, should be included with the cream), until bubbles start to appear around the edges, but not until it boils. Poor this over the chocolate, stirring together with a spatula until the chocolate melts and the ganache is smooth.

If the chocolate hasn't completely melted and the mixture is cooling off, put the metal mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water, as a double boiler, and finish melting the chocolate. This is more likely to be necessary if you didn't chop the chocolate very finely.

At this point, add the butter and any other flavourings and mix together. The ganache should be nice and shiny. Pour this mixture into a medium or large ziploc bag (don't use a small one! you will regret it!), and lay it flat and smooth out into an even layer. Refrigerate until it will hold its shape, but not until it is hard. This will take one to two hours, generally. During this time, I like to periodically smoosh the chocolate around and into itself to promote even cooling, but with the flat layer, it's not strictly necessary.

Once the ganache is holding shape, push it all down towards one corner of your ziploc bag. A rolling pin is useful for this. Cut off the corner of the ziploc bag on the diagonal so that your snip is about an inch in diameter. Squeeze the ganache through the cut, slicing off with a knife when you have a large enough piece (about 3/4 of an inch long for small ones, a whole inch for larger ones) and dropping on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper. Chill these little bits until they're a little more set than they were when you took them out of the fridge, but still not fully hard, 30-45 minutes.

Pull them out of the fridge again, and roll between your palms until they're round, then dip in your coating of choice and roll around. Return to the lined baking sheet and then return to the fridge overnight. Once they've been chilled this additional time they can be packaged up or whatever and shouldn't melt into each other except in high heat conditions.

Some options for flavourings:

1a. Vanilla: scrape and soak two vanilla pods in the cream while you heat it. Use 2 extra ounces of cream.
1b. Vanilla: add 2 ounces of vanilla extract to the ganache.
For rolling: Pour half an ounce of vanilla extract on 3/4 cup of sugar and mix thoroughly. Do this when you're heating the cream and give the sugar a bit of a stir every time you do something to the truffles (stir them, measure them, round them, etc) to keep it from becoming one big chunk. By the time the truffles are done this should be dry enough to roll them in.

2. Nuts: add 2 ounces of almond or hazelnut extract to the ganache.
For Rolling: Crush 1 1/2 cups of fresh walnuts or pecans. Toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Bake in the middle rack of the oven, at 350, for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Stir and cool before using for rolling.

3. Pomegranate: add 1 ounce of pomegranate concentrate and one ounce of fresh pomegranate juice to the ganache.
For Rolling: As with vanilla, except use half an ounce of pomegranate juice.

4. Ginger: add two tablespoons of grated ginger (fresh or from a jar) to the cream while heating. Add an extra ounce of cream to this set.
For Rolling: Use plain white sugar, press a small piece of crystallized ginger in the top of each truffle.

5. Chai: Brew extra strong chai (use several tablespoons of tea, with only 3-4 ounces of water), refrigerate overnight in an open container to allow it to evaporate to 2 ounces of chai. Add to cream while heating.
For rolling: Add 2 tsp of cinnamon to 1/4 cup of brown sugar and mix well.

6. Christmas: Add 2 tsp of nutmeg and 2 tsp of cinnamon to the cream while heating. Add 2 ounces extra cream.
For rolling: as with chai. Also, press a small piece of candied peel in the top of each truffle.

7. Coconut: Add two ounces of coconut extract to the cream while heating.
For rolling: mix 1/2 cup finely flaked coconut and 1/4 cup of white sugar.

Other common flavourings can include various liquers, almost any extract can be used. For rolling, anything mixed with sugar is good. Use plain chocolate cocoa, cocoa and cinnamon mixes, etc. Flavouring your truffles is where the fun really comes into play.

I tried rolling the diet truffles in a mix of splenda and cinnamon, and it worked very well, as long as they weren't left out to warm up. As the moisture from the chocolates creeped into the splenda, it sort of disappeared. Still tastey, but not very pretty. If you're going to use splenda to coat the diet truffles, you'll want to do it last minute before you serve them ( a quick re-roll in your hands will warm them back up enough to accept rolling ). Otherwise, cocoa and cinnamon are a nice light coating to choose for the diet truffles.

About February 2005

This page contains all entries posted to acho que não in February 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2005 is the previous archive.

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