The Dutch and Chocolate

Today a parcel arrived from the Netherlands. Which means it must be Christmas, in a way. My parents send out a shipment of Dutch goodies once a year, and sometimes it gets here in December, but usually it is easier to aim for another less-postally-congested month.

2015-03-30 - Step 1

Chocolate features heavily in the parcel.
There are some reasons for this.
Not good reasons, but… good enough for me.

2015-03-30 - Step 2

I have no idea where historically/culturally our predilection for starting the day with “beschuit met hagel” (crispbakes with chocolate sprinkles) comes from. But I dare you to find a household in the Netherlands that doesn’t have at least one pack of hagelslag somewhere in a cupboard.

2015-03-30 - Step 3

It used to be very difficult to get hagel in Australia. It is getting a little easier, even if the cost if extravagant compared to back “home”. And it always takes people aback when I explain it is a breakfast topping. My parents have been sending annual care packages with hagel for forever, but since it has started becoming available here too, I tend to get sent the more luxury flavours, like Mocha and Extra Dark.

2015-03-30 - Step 4

But the chocolate most directly tied to Sinterklaas (the Dutch equivalent of Christmas) is the chocolate letter. The Chocolate-Initial-Complex is a force unto itself in the Netherlands.

2015-03-30 - Step 5

And those that know me well, know exactly what happens when chocolate letters arrive. I really have no trouble leaving chocolate be, as my former experiments with The Chocolate Drawer have shown at my previous job.

2015-03-30 - Step 6

But when it comes to initials, the only way to consume them is all in one go.
That’s my story.
And I’m sticking with it.

Day 355 – Brothers

11 – 100 Easy Kids’ Birthday Cake Ideas

I don’t talk to my brothers anywhere near enough since moving to Australia. I try to remember to call for birthdays, Christmas and New Year, but all those are events where they more often than not are doing other things for the occasion.

I haven’t been to the Netherlands for a while now either, which isn’t helping.

I think about them often enough though, especially my youngest brother who has a bit more of an on-line footprint than the other. So, I all the more hope I manage to pin down my middle brother today on his birthday to find out how he’s doing.
Continue reading Day 355 – Brothers

Day 158 – Frozen Delights

It started one year when I got an ice cream maker over Christmas (which is in summer over here, for the record). Since then, every year over the holidays I make batches of ice cream.

This year, my Gingerbread House Making (here, here, here, here and here) has limited the amount of time I have available so instead of 20 litres I only am making 7 litres this year. This includes gifts as well as batches for personal use.

Ingredients for 3 batches of Coffee/Ferrero
Ingredients for 3 batches of Coffee/Ferrero

This year I am making:

  • 3 batches of Coffee-Ferrero ice cream
  • 1 batch of Chilli-Chocolate ice cream
  • 1 batch of lactose-free Mango ice cream
  • 1 batch of Rocky-Road ice cream
  • 1 batch of Mango-Berry ice cream

I create all these on a custard base. A hand-made custard that is. It took a little practice the first time I made custard. It’s very easy to end up with boiled-egg-crumbs throughout if you try to go too fast.

Step 1 – put milk and cream in pot and simmer short of boiling

Milk, Cream, 8 shots of Coffee... Stir
Milk, Cream, 8 shots of Coffee… Stir

Step 2 – put sugar and egg yolks in bowl and whisk together

Eggs and Sugar... and surplus Egg Whites
Eggs and Sugar… and surplus Egg Whites

Step 3 – slowly whisk hot milky mixture into frothy eggs

Whisky Eggs...
Whisky Eggs…

Step 4 – very slowly heat combined mixture in pot

As the Custard forms you'll notice the ripples getting softer and smoother
As the Custard forms you’ll notice the ripples getting softer and smoother

What is tricky is that at the end of step 4 it feels like the custard is still much too runny. It may cover the back of the spoon just fine, but it just still feels like liquid. Don’t panic… once it cools down it will get thicker.

For the Coffee-Ferrero I also need Ferrero obviously.

Step 1 – get plenty of Ferrero

Ferrero for 3
Ferrero for 3

Step 2 – unwrap all Ferrero

Naked Ferrero
Naked Ferrero

Step 3 – freeze and crush Ferrero

Crushed Ferrero
Crushed Ferrero

Next important step is to cool the mixture thoroughly before trying to freeze it in the machine. If you don’t chill it as much as possible and put it in the machine, you’ll end up with runny custard… then slightly thicker custard… and then runny custard again. It’ll never get creamy and thick.

Step 1 – get all the pieces for the machine

Machine in Pieces
Machine in Pieces

Step 2 – assemble and run the machine

Mixing till it Climbs the Paddles
Mixing till it Climbs the Paddles

Step 3 – decant (scrape) into container

Finished Product in a Tub
Finished Product in a Tub

Tomorrow I can get another 2 litres finished, and over Monday/Tuesday I’ll finish the remaining 3 litres. Prioritising them by order in which I need to deliver. Just enough time to get it all done.

Obie Supervises the Job
Obie Supervises the Job

I love it when a plan comes together.

Day 153 – Twelve Days of Rush-Mas

So far I have managed to dodge the bullet. I haven’t had to go out into the crazy. But the longer it lasts, the closer it gets, the worse it will be when I inevitably do.

I wonder if eventually this is the death-knell for local retailers here in Australia. They are already continuously whining about the fact overseas purchases under $1000 are exempt from taxation on importation… but if they think it’s merely that 10% that’s stopping us from buying locally, they are kidding themselves.

In many cases online easily saves 40-50% or more.

And it’s not merely price either; often things can be had online that simply are not available locally. Sometimes there is stock where there is none in the shops.

Or sometimes you do not need to queue in an insane line.

If I could do all my Christmas shopping sitting in the convenience of my home, I wouldn’t care where it was shipping from. And I don’t think there are many Australians that’d feel differently. Convenience always wins out, because out there *waves hands* is almost like psychological torture now.

Much better to relax into Christmas from the PC.

Day 150 – Ginger Base Structure

This evening has been hectic and fruitful. It has been full of gingerbread and royal icing. Some excess pieces may have found their way into my mouth along the way.

Numbered Pieces
Numbered Pieces

I started by re-baking the pieces for another 10 minutes in the oven to firm them up. Gingerbread has this habit of getting soggy over time as it absorbs liquid from the air.

Some Pieces in Pieces
Some Pieces in Pieces

Unfortunately, not all the pieces were equally structurally sound. After the baking, the wrapping, and handling earlier in the week, some pieces had multiplied.

The Gingerbread Doctor
The Gingerbread Doctor

I got some assistance doctoring the pieces back together with royal icing. It’s amazing how hard it sets once it dries. The pieces all made a very satisfying plywood sound when tapped.

Somewhat Uneven
Somewhat Uneven

Now, putting together a house of pieces of gingerbread that are 4mm thick is not quite as easy as building it from cardboard. Also, the cookies aren’t as perfectly flat and pliable as the cardboard was. End result: many gaps and mis-matched edges.

Everything Glued Together
Everything Glued Together

Luckily, there is a lot more dressing to do before this work of art is complete, so for now I’m filling all the excess space with royal icing to keep the base structure sound.

A View of the Front
A View of the Front

And then I will worry tomorrow about hiding all the flaws. There’s quite a lot of work left, and only about 4-5 hours to complete it all in tomorrow, but I’m going to use some Agile Methodology here. Adding the most important features first, so that at each point in time I have a house that can be shipped for dinner tomorrow evening.

There will be pictures of the completed product, whatever that ends up being.

Day 148 – Ho Ho Ho

A very full day just came to an end. It’s surprising how much packs into a day when I’m down here. Today I had mid-year conversations with staff from one end of the day to the other. I’d been keeping my notes up-to-date throughout the year, so it hasn’t been too stressful to get everything in order.

Still, by the end of the day my brain did feel a little fried.

And I have come to the conclusion that the rapidly changing weather isn’t helping either. When every day goes through four seasons twice over, a short three day trip starts to feel like I’ve been here for weeks… I haven’t, have I? Please tell me if I’ve lost track of time and I’ve been here for months.

Okay… counting posts… it looks like I’m okay.

Appetizers for Christmas Dinner
Appetizers for Christmas Dinner

This trip is the last one we’ll be seeing all the managers together before Christmas, so we had a little dinner together to celebrate the year. This wasn’t our first trip to the Waterside Hotel in Melbourne, and it’s great that even a second time around it doesn’t disappoint.

I can’t believe I’ve been in my new role for well over a year now; it doesn’t feel like a year. But then, by how much better I am at my job than when I first started, I know it must be true. And I’m still learning more every week. I’ve got myself some good podcasts, and a steady stream of challenges to sharpen my skills on.

Back on 6
Back on 6

But now the day is almost over… and I have another long day ahead of me. Due to circumstance I’ll be taking a late flight for my return trip, so work will finish around 5pm-ish, and then I’ll not get home much before 10pm. I feel tired just thinking about it.

Day 145 – Pain and Chocolate

I missed my yoga class this morning and I felt a bit bad about it. It’s part of my routine, and the day and weekend just don’t feel completely complete without it.

Walking to the shops for my usual coffee seemed like a great way to make up for it. Turns out, walking to the shops the long way clocks up 10,000 steps all by itself, and I hadn’t done anything yet.

The rest of the day was spent showing our Dutch guest around a bit more. Which added another 8,000 steps. And this after Nikki killed me at the gym yesterday with lots of leg work as well. I am so aware of my muscles that I can without hesitation pinpoint exactly where my ass is at any given moment.

So, what does one do at the end of a weekend like this?

Well, one makes ice cream. Obviously.

I am making relatively quick batches this weekend. Nothing too fancy, because it all ties into the deadline for next weekend. I have to complete a gingerbread house, and make dark chocolate ice cream and banana ice cream. And I have to fit it in around my work trip to Melbourne for most of the week. So that means I have today, and next Saturday morning essentially.

Oh, and I have to wash some shirts or I won’t have enough clean ironed shirts to take to Melbourne.

Once again I don’t think I’ll have any trouble sleeping, because I already really want to right now.

Day 141 – Drawing, Cutting, Building

Plain post today.
Migraine not doing me any favours this morning.

The construction video from last night finally finished rendering successfully.

If anyone has tips regarding actual baking/construction, specifically regarding what will keep and how long, that’d be much appreciated.

I’ll need at least a gingerbread recipe and an icing recipe for wall-glue.
Both to last about two weeks after construction.

See also: Day 138 – Planning a Build

Day 139 – Squaffins and Stuff

I didn’t quite make 10k steps tonight, despite coming quite close. I’m blaming the class that didn’t show. Essentially I got a private class tonight because I was the only one there. On the upside I got personalised advice which was great.

I had warmed up quite extensively on the treadmill beforehand though, so I did get about 9k, which isn’t bad. And I got a squats challenge which I’m sure makes up for the remaining 1000 by the feel of it.

Cycle tomorrow.
I guess pacing myself is not a bad idea.

On the way home I discovered that it’s already December. The first I noticed is that everybody seems to be really into blue Christmas lights this year. I hope we get some nice decked out neighbourhoods so I can take the camera for a walk and capture the season in full glorious lighting.

Square Muffins apparently... isn't it obvious?
Square Muffins apparently… isn’t it obvious?

And then when I started writing this post, I learned that I’d never shared the above image from the gym. It really deserves its own post, but it’s too overdue for that now.

I felt really stupid when the response was “They are Square Muffins”. But I’m not entirely sure I should have been able to guess. It seems both obvious and insane at the same time. Which is all the more reason I should have gotten it myself.