...The Food Show, July chocolate festivals, Valentines Day, Father Day, boutique & bijoux handmade chocolates where artisans at work behind glass windows, chocolate heaven.  You could make your own handmade chocolates, too.  A simple recipe, is a sure winner whatever time of year and will wow your friends and family; I do it one-handedly.

It was Valentine's Day a few months ago and there certainly was a buzz around town. Store owners bedecked shelves with confectionary, chocolate sweeties and cakes, even though their primary business was ladies clothes, home stores or spa massages.

Flowers arrived at the markets and flower-stalls looking fresh and dazzling, perfect for a loved ones' gift. Around town, jewellery stores doing fast-paced merchandising: diamonds and gemstones were ''on sale'', and there were lots of frenzied buying. For a gift of love or a marriage proposal perhaps.

I thought of Valentine’s Day in Spain, some years back. Once we visited the Valor Chocolate factory just around that time and oh my! - they were so-o-o busy with visitors.

On that occasion, we made our way to Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca, parked our car next to Valor and took the free tour which included a video-presentation showing the origins of ''cacao'' , and the process of converting the humble cacao pod into world-class chocolate. They take groups of 50 at a time.

First stop is the Valor museum where the olden-time machines and gadgets were used; the mortar & pestle displayed was something of a surprise – it looked similar to the long, granite rolling pin and heavy, granite board that my grandmother used to use in Penang, Malaysia; fancy that!




And then through to the factory, where we observe the production equipment in full flight from two floor above, the up-to-date machines whirred and whistled and out came conveyer-belts of bonbons, hand finished speciality chocolates, packaged and ready for sale. Viewing some amazing chocolate sculptures of Mayan Gods and a stunning dress made from Valor chocolate wrappers; cool...

What came at the end of the tour was something I'd been looking forward to: the tasting...! All the luscious aromas and odours of chocolate permeated the whole factory. Who could resist temptation? There were quite a lot of us on the factory tour; would there be enough samples to go round? Other food manufacturing tours we have been on in the past tended to be extremely light on the tasting volume and variety.

Valor on the other hand took the opposite approach: the tasting counter dripped with every bonbon they had and they were three-deep and filled each tray right to the back. We were given free reign to have as many samples as we wanted, obviously to make a choice of what to buy (or not). I popped 4 into my mouth, slurping the delights, one after another. It was difficult to make a choice. I simply had to have another 7 more bonbons, just to make sure. No pressure to buy, though we did buy more than we could possibly eat (maybe); as did most the group that we were on tour with.

What not to like? ''Valor'' probably haven't promoted it enough, but one of the reviews said it all: ''Free Entry; Free Chocolate'' ….which is just as well: we'll make the time to re-visit next time in Spain.

Now we're in NZ, I thought of friends who made selections of awesome, homemade gifts. It has to be a simple process; except perhaps it just takes time to do it well? How difficult could it be to make your own handmade chocolates?

Armed with ingredients, I decided to make Chocolate Cashewnut Butter Cups on the Friday, and Mini-Rocky Road on the Saturday; in time for a day out to Devonport, on the North Shore of Auckland, to a Chocolate store which made their own chocolates, on Valentine’s Day.

I made the chocolate cups. Started with all the ingredients which was simply dark chocolate (melted in a microwave), cashew-nut butter (which is readily available, or you can alternatively use peanut butter), icing sugar with a bit of shortening or butter for loosening up the mixture, mini-cupcake patty cases. Simple, scrumptious recipe with a twist, indulgent and always fresh – no baking! Sandwich the two layers of chocolate with the creamy, buttery cashew nut-butter filling and refrigerate. A little bit finicky, but which were delectable.

The next day, followed it up with mini-Rocky Road surprise, in little patty cases. Easy and tasty recipe for Rocky Road, there are many variations, you can add nuts, dried fruit and biscuits it really is up to you. Again, I've used dark chocolate, and a mixture of marshmallows, Turkish delight, nuts, dried fruit, coconut. All dry ingredients mixed together, melted the dark chocolate. Fold the melted chocolate into the mixed ingredients, put into patty cases and refrigerate.

Chocolate Cashewnut Butter Cups and Mini-Rocky Road were very easy to make with both hands (see: stroke), but they were still simple with my 1-hand. They are very moreish, perhaps make twice the amount of a standard recipe; they were a huge success. Especially the chocolate cups which attracted the comment: it tasted like salted caramel filling with a dark chocolate surround – great, delicious.

It dawned bright and beautiful, the next day – just the right weather for a drive to the North Shore. The trip over the harbour bridge was a bit gusty, but it was sunny nonetheless. Decked out with red, and more red, we entered the Devonport Chocolate store and was transported into choc-heaven – chocolate in glass counters, in boxes... even a high-heeled shoe; it was all very glossy and delicious. We had a taste of the samples on offer, and wandered about the store, wondering and deciding what to get. What a shame that it was Sunday; the bijoux in-house factory was closed. Never mind, we know now, to come back on a Saturday, next time...now to indulge.