How often do you sing out loud? I was listening to my son belting out a classic last weekend, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, and found myself hollering along. My son thinks Mr MacDonald farms a fair number of dinosaurs and trucks, so we experimented with gusto.
By the time we finished we were both grinning all the way through the house and I realised I couldn’t remember when I’d stopped playing the kind of music that inspired singing along loudly, but it was probably time I started up again.
Consequently, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Queen, the Pitch Perfect soundtrack and all the cheesy music my lungs can handle have been cranked all the way up to 11 this week. And it feels great. I now also know all the words to the Frozen theme song, Let It Go. The proper way to learn those words is to sing the song 16 times in a row — just so you know the level of dedication you’re going to need to achieve the same Disney singing skills I now exhibit.
It began with singing but didn’t stop there. The next step started with some arm flinging, Elsa-style, during my Let It Go marathon, but rapidly crescendoed (or diminuendoed, depending on your attitude towards these things) into pretty fabulous boogying. Not dancing, you understand, nothing as simple and tame as mere dancing. In my mind I was a So You Think You Can Dance finalist — as long as the mirror was well hidden. No need to be reminded that I really look more like a mid-sized orangutan suffering from epilepsy.
By the time I went to a chocolate masterclass later in the week, I was in a fine mood — and had been for a few days. I can’t believe that I’d forgotten the simple joy of being silly, and I was loving rediscovering gasps of laughter during faux-serious dance routines.
It later came to me that we live in a world filled to the brim with potential worries. Work, family, politics, religion, science, climate, self help, war; the fabric of modern life threatens to be lonely and frightening. Existence seems lopsided at times, imperfect and overwhelming. The choices we need to make grow as our world gets smaller. We’re no longer guaranteed jobs for life, or marriages for life, or even that we get to live in one town, state or country. Education is increasingly a luxury, certainly in Australia this week as the government announced a budget that left everyone who doesn’t own a coal mine reeling.
And in this midst of overwhelming choices and underwhelming options, it feels more important than ever before to hold onto the ability to be a little foolish, to clown for no other reason than it makes you smile. And then to carry that smile with you, deep in your stomach and at the base of your throat, so that you can pass it on for the next person to discover. A reminder that we really are all together on this small, spinning ball; so we may as well have a good laugh about it.
I carried my smiles to a small group of passionate chocoholics and one fabulous pastry chef. Chloë Thomas, head pastry chef at a top Melbourne restaurant, The Stokehouse, showed us chocolate techniques and recipes for hours, during which her humour and talent filled the room with laughter and the best kind of greed. This truffle recipe was one of my favourites and when I remade it at home, it turned out just as beautifully as hers. It turns out that good company + truffles + singing + dancing is really the best recipe of all.
- 300g raw peanuts
- 300g sugar
- 100g water
Preheat oven to 160˚C/320˚F
Line a baking tray with baking paper and roast the peanuts until they’re golden brown and you can smell that lovely peanutty aroma
Set aside to cool slightly
Meanwhile, heat the sugar and water over a medium heat until the sugar starts to colour
Swish the sugar around the pan (don’t use a spoon, it will crystallise the sugar and make your caramel grainy)
Continue heating and swirling until the sugar is dissolved and the mix is a dark amber colour
It’s super hot now, so be very careful as you add the peanuts and stir gently with a wooden spoon
Once the nuts are coated, pour back onto the tray covered with baking paper and set aside to cool
Once cool, break into small chunks and blitz in a food processor until the mix resembles large breadcrumbs
- 20g glucose
- A pinch of salt
- 300g double cream (heavy cream) make sure it’s just cream without any thickeners or other additives
- 200g good quality milk chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Valrhona 40%. Just use the best you can afford)
- 50g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Valrhona 66%. Again, use the best you can afford)
- 100g crunchy peanut butter
- 25g unsalted butter, softened
- 150g peanut praline (from the recipe above)
Heat glucose, salt and cream in a small pot until it reaches a rolling boil (meaning the bubbles don’t disappear when you stir the mix)
Meanwhile, mix 150g of the milk chocolate with the dark chocolate, peanut butter and butter in a medium mixing bowl
Pour half the hot cream mix over the chocolates and whisk
Pour the remainder of the cream mix over the chocolate and whisk until all the chocolate and butter is melted
Stir in 100g of the peanut praline, pour into a container about 5cm deep and place in the fridge overnight
Once it’s reached rolling consistency (overnight will be long enough); prepare a tray with baking paper before using a tablespoon to spoon out balls and roll between your hands into truffles
Place each truffle on the baking paper and return to the fridge to set, about an hour
Melt the remaining 50g of milk chocolate and place in a bowl
Place the remaining 50g of peanut praline in a separate bowl
Roll each truffle in the melted milk chocolate followed by the praline crumbs and place back in the fridge until you’ve devoured them all.