Thursday, 19 March 2015

Fudge Kitchen

There is a place in Canterbury near the Cathedral, at the top end of the Kings Mile, that smells devilishly divine.  As you walk past you are hit with wafts of warm caramel, indulgent notes of toffee, vanilla drifts of superheated sugar and sinfully rich hints of melted chocolate.  What makes this a real test of will is the sign outside that tempts you in with the promise of free samples.

I'm talking about the Fudge Kitchen
The hunter green shop front gives way to a business that has been perfecting its fudge recipes for over 30 years, using traditional techniques and methods that are nearly two hundred years old.  All the fudge is made in-house in the great bronze fudge cauldron and on the marble slab where, if you get lucky with your timings, you can watch the fudge artisans doing their stuff.
If watching isn't enough for you, then you can always get down and sticky with the fudge yourself in one of their fudge making experiences!  For the cool price of £60 for two people, you can learn the basics of fudge making, put yourself into a sugar coma on free tasting samples and walk out with 4 slabs of fudge to take home.  Not bad value to be honest!  They also do the Fudge At Home kits where you can get scientific in your own kitchen with your very own sugar thermometer and fudge tools and a lot of cream.

We will get onto the fudge itself in a moment, I promise.

For now, let me tell you a little bit more about fudge in general.  Fudge was originally 'born' at a female college in Virginia in the States, not in Cornwall or Devon surprisingly.  Apparently a college lecturer was taking a class in toffee making when the temperature of the concoction was not taken high enough. The end product was called ‘fudge' and in one fell swoop two things were invited; a creamy, delicious treat and the term to 'fudge' something.  
The Fudge Kitchen specialises in American style fudge, using a recipe that relies on the creamiest of cream instead of butter to give their fudge its distinctive, addictive texture and help the vanilla flavour maintain its creamy colour.  They must be doing something right as they now have Fudge Kitchens in Canterbury, Bath, York, Cambridge, Windsor, Edinburgh and Oxford (all of which, coincidentally considering the origin story of Fudge, are towns and cities with major Universities present).  They are a proper Kentish company; their head offices are in Lyminge, not far from Canterbury.   Can't get to a store and currently clawing and the screen to get your paws on some?  Don't worry - they deliver.   You may even get really lucky and find them at a stockist near you.
They don't just do big slabs of fudge. For those of you who prefer your fudge in liquid form, they also do sachets of drinking fudge in a multitude of different flavours, from Tangy Orange to Gorgeous Ginger (I married one of them) and the original Sea Salt Caramel.  You can have these hot in the winter or as a seriously different milkshake in the summer.
Then there are the fudge sauces.  Pancake Day is admittedly behind us, but I'm a firm advocate for pancakes throughout the year and these would make an amazing topping.  They would also be awesome in a sticky toffee pudding, poured over ice cream, in a bread and butter pudding (the chocolate and ginger would be especially brilliant for this), baked into cakes and cupcakes or as an indulgent icing or as a fudge fondue with marshmallow and fruit skewers. 
So that's all the little added extras that the fudge kitchen specialises in.  Now onto the main event - the fudge itself.
The first thing to note is the variety of fudge you can get - from your traditional toffee and chocolate flavours to seasonal classics (at the moment Hot Cross Bun and Lemon and Ginger are on the menu for the spring time). 
You can try a sliver of any of the fudges before you buy one of the enormous, 175g slabs that they have for sale in the the window.  We had come in to build a box to take to the pub for my birthday for everyone to share - a little goes a long way.
We got a 6 slab box for £22 to take home and filled it with Traditional Toffee (very sweet and warm), Vintage Vanilla (pure white with a warm vanilla taste that comes from pods and not essence), Caramel Swirl (made from the Vintage Vanilla fudge which has homemade caramel swirled through it), Chocolate Classic (my favourite, dark and velvety and most definitely not for children - it has an almost bitter edge that cuts through the sweetness of the fudge), Double Trouble (dark chocolate fudge with great chunks of white Belgian chocolate running through it) and Belgian Chocolate Swirl (dark Belgian chocolate and the classic Vanilla fudge swirled together). 
The flavours are like no fudge you have tasted before.  All of them are decadent, rich and creamy; a small morsel goes a very long way and will satisfy even the strongest of sweet tooth cravings. Our box lasted for ages. Half of the box fed 8 people as a dessert, the other half we took to rehearsal with 15 people there who gradually munched their way through it.     
Why not consider something a little bit different from your traditional Easter eggs this year, and go for a box of fudge for the family, or a home kit so you can make your own fudge at home with the kids over the Easter holidays (supervised closely of course!)  They would absolutely love it!
You can find the Fudge Kitchen on facebook and twitter and they have a blog so why not say hello?

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my Facebook group or Twitter or Instagram!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Prawn Stir Fry

Sometimes there is nothing better than a simple, straightforward stir fry.  Crunchy fresh vegetables, prawns and noodles all coated in a zingy, lightly spicy sauce.  The leftovers make for a brilliant packed lunch as well!
I've tried a few packet sauces for stir fry from the supermarket, and have found every single one, without fail, to be utterly bland and flavourless.  I'm not sure what it is about pre-made stir fry sauces, but it seems as though companies are just afraid of tickling the taste buds. 
That is not what I want when I am eating my dinner.  I want flavour and zing with contrasting hot and sharp tang.  After being utterly fed up with the offerings, I stuck my head in my kitchen cupboards, pulled out every bottle of Asian inspired sauce I had and started pouring, tasting and tweaking in a bowl until I had created my own stir fry sauce that is, as far as I am concerned, a flavour sensation. 

Patent pending.

Prawn Stir Fry

200g packet raw king prawns (or chicken or lean strips of beef or pork)
1 packet stir fry vegetable mix (or make your own with chopped red and green peppers, shredded cabbage, baby corn, finely chopped red onion, diced courgette, mange tout, shredded carrot and broccoli)
1 x 350g packet bean sprouts
1 x 350g packet vermicelli noodles
Couple of handfuls sweet corn
1 teaspoon wok oil or vegetable oil
1 lime


2 tablespoons siriachi sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons ground ginger (fresh would be better, peel and julienne 1 x inch strip of ginger, I didn't have any in the house though)
2 teaspoons chinese five spice
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablepoon sesame seeds
Juice of 1 lime

Get everything lined up and the dressing pre-mixed before you turn the hob on.  Once the heat goes on, everything happens very quickly!
In a large wok (or deep frying pan if you don't have a wok) heat the oil.  When the oil is very hot (hold your hand over it, you should feel the heat on the palm of your hand almost instantly), throw in all of the mixed vegetables and stir continuously for 1 minute. 

Add the bean sprouts and noodles and stir for 1 more minute

Add the prawns and sweet corn and stir until all prawns turn pink.

Throw in the dressing and stir for a further minute or until everything is lightly coated.

Sprinkle some more sesame seeds on the top and serve with the lime cut into wedges.

If you can eat this with chopsticks, then I commend you.  I'm normally not too bad when I use them, but for some reason I really struggle with noodles, and this dish has oodles of noodles!
By the way, did you know that elephants are a symbol of good luck and good fortune in Asian cultures?  I have a few elephant statues and ornaments in my house, and my grandmother always taught me to make sure that the elephants' trunk points towards the entrance of the house. That way only good fortune will ever enter.

It's probably all supersititious nonsense, but I still make sure that all my elephants always have their trunks pointing at the front door, no matter where they are.
If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my Facebook group or Twitter or Instagram!

Friday, 6 March 2015


Many years ago, I was sat in my English Literature class at school, prepping for my A-Levels.

The topic of discussion was Tom Stoppard's work of art, Arcadia.  For once, I was enraptured with the conversation as we looked at the nature of chaos theory vs order; chaos in science, chaos in love, chaos in sex and chaos in fate, Fermat's Last Theorem, Byron and Japanese cars, the influence of the past on the misunderstandings of the present, Classicism vs Romanticism, dahlia's and a monkey bite, game books and tortoises all wrapped up in a candle lit waltz and some quick fire dialogue, rapier humour and sparkling wit.
Thus began a 15 year love affair with the play.  I am not the only one who loves it either.  A year ago the English Touring Theatre ran a poll to reveal the nation's favourite plays and Arcadia stood out on that list, coming in at number 4. 
Photography Credit Mark Douet
I was fortunate enough to be able to see a production of the Olivier award winning play in 1998 and then I discovered that the English Touring Theatre were bringing it to my home town (Bromley).  As my parents still live there, it was the perfect opportunity to grab some tickets for the Churchill Theatre and then go back to theirs for some of mum's home cooking.
I've tried to describe Arcadia to people who don't know it in so many different ways, but it never comes out quite the way I want it too.

It normally stars with "well, it has my favourite line from any play in it.

Chater:  You insulted my wife in the gazebo yesterday evening

Septimus: You are mistaken.  I made love to your wife in the gazebo.  She asked me to meet her there, I have her note somewhere, I dare say I could find it for you, and if someone is putting it about that I did not turn up, by God, sir, it is a slander

That pretty much sets the tone for the entire play.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
Arcadia is set in two time periods, 1809 and modern day, and all the action takes place in one central room of Sidley Park, the family home of the Croom / Coverly families. In 1809 Septimus Hodge is the tutor to Thomasina Croom, the precocious and endearingly innocent daughter of Lord and Lady Croom.  Lord Byron, the poet and school friend of Hodge, is staying for the weekend.  In the modern day, scholars Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale are trying to unravel the events of that weekend. 

The title of the play is taken from the longer phrase 'Et in Arcadia ego'; the accurate translation of which is the subject of some academic debate.  Arcadia refers to the pastoral ideal; the phrase literally translates as "and in Arcadia I" but a 1637 painting by Poussin offers the translation of 'Even in Arcadia, there am I', spoken by Death.  This duality of meaning is typical of Stoppard throughout this play as well as foreshadowing events to come; Thomasina's eventual death and Septimus' subsequent madness and self-banishment from society as he tries to prove her theories.

One of the common criticism of Arcadia is that it is frankly too clever by half and can leave you feeling a bit disgruntled.  It is an incredibly wordy play, very 'Stoppardy' (he of the Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead fame), with quick fire dialogue that explores chaos theory, the nature of time and the idea that time, once mixed, like jam in porridge, cannot be unmixed by simply stirring the other way.  Stoppard turns this on its head though by looking at the nature of scholarly historical research, how we interpret evidence and documentation, and how we can form compelling arguments for situations that never happened.  Fabrications born out of our own mind, mountains out of molehills and the significant from the trivial.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
What can never be accounted for is sex, the influence of sex on our actions and how our own human natures can override any form of logical behaviour.  Arcadia is inherently human,and the Director, Blanche McIntryre is quoted as saying that 'it is the only play I know that reaches all four points of the is intellectually daring and it has the courage to communicate complex arguments to an audience.  It also has humanity and it has wit and it's very rare to find a play with all these qualities".

Characters embody these functions.  Valentine, the modern day eldest son of the household, is cynical, clinical and detached.  He is dry and observant, putting all his faith into his formulas, and yet is thrown at the idea that Thomasina, a home educated 19C, 13 year old girl, could be exploring concepts that have only been in existence for a few years, calculating sums that his laptop needs to process a few million times.  Thomasina alternates between being a precocious, intellectually advanced woman who is grasping around the edges of concepts she does not have the life experience to yet draw parallels with, and a little girl who is still excited at the idea of boiled ham, cabbages and a rice pudding for dinner.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
Lady Croom, on the other hand, is wild and exuberant, an outrageous flirt who rules the house with an iron fist, an lady who is established in position and power and confident in her own overriding sense of presence and intellect, however misguided, whilst Chloe, Valentine's sister is young and naive, sexual but unsure of herself, a flirt but terrified when her flirtations are acted upon.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
Photography Credit Mark Douet
Hannah and Bernard are two sides of the same academic coin, one measured, considered and evidence focused, the other arrogant, sweeping and generalising.  As a partnership, they are sublime as they carve small academic chunks out of each other.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
Linking both time periods is the character of Augustus or Gus.  Augustus in 1809, Gus in the modern day.  The same actor portrays both characters, the arrogant young lord who alternates between ordering Septimus around and appealing to him for advice and guidance whilst the shy Gus, completely mute and introverted, provides a gentleness that acts as a counterpoint to Bernard's boisterous nature.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
This particular adaptation, was just scrumptious to watch.  Most of the characters were spot on, as I have always envisioned them being.  Septimus (Wilf Scolding), Lady Croom (Kirsty Besterman), Hannah (Flora Montgomery), Chloe (Roa Zmitrowicz) and Bernard (Robert Cavanah) were just wonderful and an absolute joy to watch.  Hannah Jarvis is an absolute gift of a role for an actress, one of the few well rounded, complex female characters that are out there, and Montogomery was a joy to watch.
Thomasina was good in places, but not as consistent as I would have liked her to be (I couldn't understand her lines in a couple of places, luckily I am very familiar with the script or this would have been a problem).  Chater was, I am sorry to say, an utter disappointment with none of the gormless vanity that I so hoped to see, incredibly stiff and often stood with his back to the audience so his words and facial expressions were obscured.
Photography Credit Mark Douet
I loved the set and lighting in this production - it was simple (as it needed to be for a touring show) but still conveyed the sense of grandeur of the stately home.  Steve was a bit upset that they hadn't bothered to mask and paint the flat joins, particularly on the roof, which did stand out a bit.  The table became almost another character, littered with paraphernalia from both time periods throughout that are juxtaposed together, including the tortoise Plautus (or Lightening depending on your time period).  I was a little annoyed when Bernard's briefcase was left on the table as it completely blocked my view of the artists impression of the gardens; quite an important feature of the play!
Overall though, this play was a delight to watch.  Steve went in absolutely blind, knowing only that it is my favourite play, and really enjoyed it. I would strongly recommend going to see it while you can!  It is on tour until the 18th April - see here for dates and venues.

The reason I was so keen to see this play again, other than the fact that I love it, is that I have been approved to direct it for the Canterbury Players autumn show at the Gulbenkian theatre. 

I think I have quite a legacy to try and live up to.  I have already started my planning process and will be auditioning in the summer.  It is an utterly complex play and every time I read it I get a new insight into a character, an exchange or a concept.  To attempt to realise that is an incredibly daunting prospect  Wish me luck!

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my Facebook group or Twitter or Instagram!