Summer heat dissolves writer’s brain – takes time off to re-gel

Syrup & Tang has been in existence for about 10 months now. I’ve been buoyed by the enthusiasm of my readers and encouraged to continue this project. Most of it has been fun, though it hasn’t all been roses — there were three abusive commenters this year (one slapped down, one edited, one completely censored)… the downside of the internet’s lack of social constraint. And there were all those miscracked eggs and macawrongs to deal with late at night! 😀

Technical

For much of the year the site attracted rather a lot of search engine attention for the phrase ‘women showing undies’… An unintended consequence of one of my early en passant pieces. I’m also perplexed by the number of hits I get for the search term ‘t’. Yes, ‘t’. Go figure.

Most visitors are in Australia — I’ve yet to break into the international scene, alas — and the type of browser you guys and gals use is interesting: about 30% Firefox, 32% IE6 and 23% IE7. That middle figure frustrates me because Internet Explorer 6 is both aesthetically unfulfilling (it doesn’t do some of the fancier visual elements of my site) and also a security risk for the user (IE6 has had more security patches than a quilt, and if you haven’t automatically been upgraded to IE7, the likelihood is that many of those patches have never been applied either).

About 65% of you use a fairly standard screen (approx 4:3 ratio), with 1024*768 pixels being the most popular. 27% are using a wider screen format (probably laptop, 1280*800, etc), and then there are some lucky people with enooooormous screens: (2560*1600!). I’m relieved that less than 2% of visitors use small screens (800*600).

Reading

The most commented article was my brief mention of the Bloggers’ Banquet — no surprise, as I think most Melburnian bloggers found it generated a big buzz. Readers’ favourites seem to have been the book reviews (Botanical, Secrets of the Red Lantern, Maggie’s Harvest, but not the one for Fast Food Nation).

I was surprised at how little traffic/comment was generated by the travel or restaurant articles. And not a single person clicked on one of my links to Amazon, so no income for me! (Not that I expect any food site in Australia earns much/anything from Amazon affiliate links.)

And my favourite article (the one I most enjoyed writing) languished, unloved but for one comment by my friend Harry: Amazon tastes bad. Meanwhile, the article series La Macaronicité was possibly one of the most interactive, nagging, complaining, encouraging, swearing-inducing, happiness-evoking, egg-cracking affairs around! Waiter, I want more!

So what comes next?

Syrup & Tang will go into hiatus for the rest of January. I’ve been working through some ideas for a modified design and need time to work on that. Naturally, I still encourage comments everywhere and will respond as usual. In fact, I’d also like your comments right here:

  1. What would you like to see more of?
  2. Is there anything about the site that doesn’t work for you (technically, visually or conceptually)?
  3. What new stuff would interest you?
  4. Do you use the RSS feed, the email subscription, or just pop by when you remember to?

I’ll certainly be exploring new types of content, expanding the link list (a weak point so far, sorry) and testing some new layouts.

Comment away o readers, regulars and lurkers. (Private comments can also be sent via the contact page if you feel the need.)

And remember, no-one has yet guessed the flavour of the macaron in the final macaron article!

Prosit!

– DM

End of year notes (with extra chocolate)

Well, well, listen carefully. The last breath of 2007 has been exhaled. As well as wishing all a wonderful 2008, I think it’s time to clean out all the pieces of deliciousness which I didn’t get around to writing up properly {embarrassed look on face}. Think of this as being the end-of-year/start-of-year food porn clearance.

But first let me say that I’m glad to see the back of 2007. It wasn’t my favourite year in many respects. This year I had to teach myself not to care about stuff, which doesn’t come naturally. I waved goodbye to The Age Epicure (though waving isn’t two-fingered enough, if you get my drift). I juggled four jobs with less to show for it.

On the positive side, I ate lots of wonderful chocolate (though found that disciplined chocolate tasting really spoils the fun). I designed this website with lots of encouragement and support (thanks, Harry!). I enjoyed the enthusiasm of Melbourne’s and Australia’s foodblogging world. I acquired a lovely white Macbook on which something new for the site is currently brewing. I ate some of the best olives ever (thank you, Simon!). I drank champagne with hibiscus flowers (thank you, Debbie!). I ate at the infuriating (Fat Duck) and inspiring (Interlude. Thanks, Robin!) ends of the ‘new cookery’ spectrum.

I’m hoping 2008 will involve more enjoyment and less crap for all of us.

Down to the food now…

Chocolate

I ate this…

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I’m very interested in high-cocoa milk chocolate (hence the first selection above). Valrhona and Michel Cluizel provide reliable satisfaction (though not at Australian prices! Imagine, for a moment, that a block of either costs less than EUR 4.00 in France — at most AUD 6.70! Now prepare for the sticker-shock next time you go shopping in Oz.)

The second pic shows one of my favourite middle-of-the-road Belgian brands, popular in France but alas almost entirely unobtainable in Australia (I saw some gift boxes at The Barn in Rozelle (Sydney) a few years ago). Café Tasse does a wonderful range of large and small blocks and tiny mini-tablets.

Meanwhile, I was enchanted by the meticulous presentation and packaging of the chocolates from Richart. There are seven flavour collections, including the Balsamics, the Citrus, and the Herbaceous. Intriguing. And expensive! Each of the chocolates is a tiny cube, a mere 15 mm across, filled with flavoured ganache. Individual flavours include things like ylang-ylang, basil, cinnamon, fennel, ‘bouquet exotique’, thyme, lemon, etc. The range was very interesting, with complex notes in many directions, though too often failed to deliver enough oomph to be special. I’ve complained about excessive subtlety in ganache flavourings previously.

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In Lyon, one of the premier chocolatiers is Bernachon. A kind soul had recommended that I try one of their palet d’or (see below). These are large (from memory, approx 7 cm in diameter) thick discs of firm dark chocolate-crĂšme fraĂźche ganache, flecked with gold (my personal value increased with every bite). I’ve seen similar pucks around France and never felt tempted… and I must admit I only bought this at the kind soul’s behest. Well. What a stunner! Rich, complex, fragrant. You could eat one a day and die happy (and prematurely, and broke).

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They also do a range of cakes, including this delightful (if a tad butter-creamy) thing of caramelised pistachio paste, pistachio cream, kirsch flavoured chocolate cake and more. Mmmm.

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Amongst their chocolates there were some curious ovoids called, um, Romanoffs? Mendelsohns? Mussorgskys? Something like that. A flavoured chocolate paste enrobed in a coloured, gritty sugar shell.

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At the shops of Jeff de Bruges I discovered reasonable chocolate, and lovely little boxes of dragĂ©es (sugar almonds). Interestingly, Sydney now sports an outpost. Who’d have thought?

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This year I did disciplined tasting of many chocolates from the UK and France. Ones I haven’t written about previously were from Jean-Paul HĂ©vin, La Maison du Chocolat (LMdC) and Michel Cluizel. Cluizel is the only one available in Australia. I’ve seen the pralines (bonbons) in only a couple of places. They don’t quite equal the quality of HĂ©vin or LMdC. HĂ©vin is highly regarded and the pralines were mostly well-judged and interesting, though I had my only horrendous-French-customer-service experience ever at the hands of one of their staff. LMdC is a long-standing chain with a strong international presence and, despite this, has a product which stood clearly above the others, much to my surprise. They could open a shop in Australia. I wouldn’t complain…

Cakes

2007’s travel was very much about catching up on things I’ve skipped previously. Finally time to visit the pĂątissier Gerard Mulot. His macarons are excellent (I think he’s won a prize) and the tarts were delectable. An additional positive: despite his renown, the shop in Paris’s 6th arrondissement was relaxed and unpretentious.

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A new place for me was the outstanding Pain de Sucre in rue Rambuteau (3rd arrondissement). Macarons (stunning), marshmallows in a cornucopia of flavours, bread and delighful tarts.

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Chocolate and hyssop. Lime.

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So there we go… some food porn. Live vicariously through my pictures if you wish:)

Thanks for reading.

– DM