Happy birthday, dad!

Happy birthday, dad! Thank you blood donors!Today is my dad’s birthday. A birthday he likely wouldn’t be celebrating without the generosity of blood donors.

Last spring, my dad had a health incident which required extraordinary life-saving measures, including multiple blood transfusions. He received exceptional medical care, but probably wouldn’t have survived without replacing at least some of the blood that he lost.

My dad was a blood (and platelet) donor for decades before health complications made him ineligible and there was something poetic about the system he’d supported for so many years paying him back in kind. Even more poetically, there’s the slight possibility that my husband’s blood made it to my dad. My father and husband share a blood type and we donated blood just a few days prior to my dad’s hospitalization.

Be nice to me - I gave blood today!
My sticker from donating blood last week

If you are eligible to donate blood (and not terrified of needles!), I urge you to do it. It takes about an hour, it’s relatively painless (although not entirely, I can’t lie about that), they give you cookies and lots of ‘thank yous’, and it’s the easiest way I know to directly help save a life.

The basic requirements to donate blood in Canada are being over 17 and in good health. (There are more eligibility restrictions on the Canadian Blood Services website, which don’t apply to most people, but sadly mean that gay men can’t donate.) It’s easy to find a nearby clinic through the Canadian Blood Services website and use their 1-800 number to book an appointment.

I am so appreciative of all the donors who gave of themselves (literally!) to help save my dad’s life. Several months after his health scare, my dad is doing really well, but I shudder to think of what would have happened if my dad had been unable to receive those transfusions.

If you can donate blood, please do! 

A wish for bravery & joy

A wish for bravery and joyI’m stealing a New Year’s wish from Neil Gaiman to share this year. He posts these kind of wishes most years and they’re all really lovely!

This one rings particularly true as I step into a very unknown future! There’s a whole lot of newness to look forward to in Calgary (job, home, yoga studio, friends, climate), very little that’s nailed down, and infinite possibilities for happiness!

It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

Neil Gaiman, author
New Year’s wish from 31 December, 2011

 

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and an incredibly brave and joyful 2015!

Walk into the dark without fear

Warm drinks & warmest wishes

Christmas market drinksMy favourite part of winter in Europe is the Christmas markets. And my favourite part of the Christmas markets is the food and drink. Okay – really, it’s the warm beverages!

From Eierpunsch (warm, alcoholic eggnog) and Glühwein (mulled wine) to Feuerzangenbowle (a rum-based punch with flaming sugar cubes) and Lumumba (hot chocolate with rum, cognac, brandy, or amaretto) at German markets to vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and bière de Noël (Christmas beer) at French and Belgian markets there’s a drink for every taste. Not only are the drinks delicious, the mugs make excellent hand warmers and they’re a toasty way to warm the spirit.

This is the last day of the Christmas markets around Mannheim and I’ll certainly be taking advantage of one last round of warm drinks. And likely posing with a funny face while holding the mug 😀

I hope your holidays are filled with hot beverages, fun with friends & family, excellent food, lots of time to relax, and warm hearts!

Christmas mail

Package of tea, tea pot, and addressed/stamped envelopesOne of my favourite things about this time of year is sending Christmas cards. I love picking them out, putting on stamps, listing out recipients, and writing messages of hope and happiness. I imagine that the cards I send add a little sparkle (sometimes literally… I choose a lot of glittery cards!) and hopefully bring some holiday cheer.

This year I sent a few cards to strangers and I’ll likely never know if the correspondence got to them. The Canadian Armed Forces allows people to send cards to random members and after reflecting on Remembrance Day a few weeks ago, it seemed appropriate to send my appreciation to Canadians currently serving around the world.

The cards I sent out this year likely won’t be received in time for Christmas (they go through a central mail station and are then sent overseas, so it’s an early deadline!), but hopefully they still bring some holiday happiness. The Instructions for Mailing Overseas on the Canadian Forces website make it easy to send mail to ‘Any Canadian Armed Forces Member’ and it was interesting to see the Canadian Forces operation names and locations (like OP HAMLET in Haiti and OP KOBOLD in Kosovo).

I was surprised to find that Canada is one of the only countries that enables this kind of contact with troops overseas. Australia has a Postcards to the Troops program that’s somewhat similar; the American Red Cross has a Holiday Mail for Heroes program that doesn’t have a central mailing address and seems pretty patchy; and the UK doesn’t allow any non-personally addressed mail to members of their armed forces. (There are, however, British charities like uk4u Thanks! that collect funds to send holiday parcels to troops.)

One more reason I feel lucky to be Canadian 🙂

Next year, I’ll break out the cards and seasonal tea at the beginning of November (and likely violate my husband’s ‘No Christmas songs before December!’ rule) and make sure the cards for ‘Any Canadian Armed Forces Member’ get to the central depot well in advance!

Christmas comes early

Christmas chocolate display that went up in SeptemberMost Novembers I’m annoyed with retailers who slap up Christmas decorations and promote holiday merchandise the second Halloween is over. Turns out Canadian stores are more patient than German ones.

The Christmas treats and product displays started appearing in Munich’s stores in September – before Oktoberfest even started! Festbier (the strong brews created to celebrate Oktoberfest) and Lebkuchen (gingerbread-like Christmas cookies) have been side-by-side on the shelves of our local supermarket for weeks and no one seems to think it strange.

At least I haven’t seen department store Santas yet and the shopping malls haven’t started with the fake greenery, shiny ornaments, and holiday music! And the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets) won’t be open until the last weekend of November – long after the Oktoberfest tents have been dismantled 🙂

Celebrate with ice cream

Mint chocolate ice cream cakeOne of my favourite ways to celebrate someone is by making them an ice cream cake. In honour of one of my favourite person’s birthdays today and because I no longer have a springform pan, I thought I’d share… and maybe inspire an ice cream celebration!

The process of creating an ice cream cake is easy – all it takes is smoothing layers of softened ice cream into a springform pan – it’s just time-consuming. Often the hardest part involves standing in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store deliberating which flavours would go best together, taking into account which brands are on sale and the preferences of the cake recipient.

The cake in the photo is mint chocolate (great combination!); I’ve also had success with chocolate cherry, caramel chocolate, and straight up chocolate. I haven’t used the same flavours twice and haven’t tried anything not chocolate-based.

Layered ice cream cake

The proportions are a little loose as I’ve never really measured and I tend to buy more ice cream than necessary – it’s not a bad thing to have some leftover 🙂

Ingredients

  • Day-old brownies and/or crushed wafer cookies (or purchased cookie crumbs) for the crust and, if desired, between layers
  • At least three different flavours of ice cream (minimum 1.5 litres total for most sizes of springform pans), preferably in contrasting colours and complimentary flavours
  • Chocolate, fudge, or caramel sauce for the top of the cake and/or between layers – or homemade ‘chocolate shell’ (recipe below)
  • Candies, nuts, and/or sprinkles if desired for the top of cake and between layers

Method

  • Wrap the bottom of a springform pan with foil (to prevent leaks) and clear out space in the freezer for the pan to sit perfectly flat
  • Press crumbled brownies into the bottom of a springform pan, creating an even crust (if using cookie crumbs, mix them with a little melted butter or softened coconut oil to get the crust to stick together); put the crust-filled pan in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to firm up
  • Soften ice cream for the first layer by removing it from the carton and leaving it in a bowl on the counter at room temperature for about 20 minutes; when the ice cream is soft enough to allow it, beat it into smooth creaminess with a wooden spoon and a lot of arm power
    • Don’t overdo it, though, you want it spreadable, not soupy!
  • Using a spatula, spread the first layer of softened ice cream onto the crust, tapping the pan onto the counter to work out air bubbles; put in the freezer for an hour before adding the next layer
  • Repeat with additional layers of ice cream – softening each flavour before beating it and smoothing it into the pan; then letting each layer freeze for an hour before adding the next one
    • If you’d like to have fillings between the layers, freeze the ice cream for only 20 minutes before sprinkling on cookie crumbs, brownie bits, nuts, or other toppings so the toppings stick to the ice cream; then re-freeze for a full hour
    • If you’d like caramel, chocolate, or fudge between the layers, use a gooey sauce that won’t get too hard when it’s frozen and let the cake freeze for an hour before and after smoothing on the sauce
  • Once you’ve added all the layers of ice cream (and any sauce or fillings between the layers) freeze for at least 8 hours to allow everything to set
  • To unmold the cake, first slightly soften the ice cream using either use a hair dryer on the edges of the springform pan or by lowering the still tightly foil-wrapped pan into a few inches of hot water, then undo the ‘spring’ and gently wiggle off the sides of the pan; place the unmolded cake back in the freezer for at least an hour
  • Cover the top of the cake with chocolate, fudge, or caramel sauce if desired and decorate with bits of brownies, cookies, candies, nuts, and/or sprinkles; place the decorated cake in the freezer for another couple hours
  • Let the cake sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before cutting using a metal knife run under hot water to help it slide through the ice cream
  • Eat, enjoy, and look forward to the next celebration you can use as an excuse to make an ice cream cake!

Homemade ‘chocolate shell’

  • 7 oz chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil

Place chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler; heat over water on medium high until fully melted, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes before pouring over ice cream… or ice cream cake!

Easter bliss

Homemade bliss ball treats in front of potted flowersEaster (or Ostern) is a big deal in Germany. There are Easter specials and corresponding displays in every store, just about everything closes over the holiday weekend, residential windows show off Easter decorations (like branches hung with decorated eggs), church bells ring, and there’s tons of chocolate!

As a slightly healthier alternative to all the Easter chocolate (which is fantastic… but sometimes a bit too much), I made a couple batches of bliss balls – although I’m calling them Glückseligkeit Bällchen in keeping with current surroundings and because I love the word Bällchen 🙂

I followed the recipe below as written for one batch (the ones coated in cocoa and chopped almonds in the image at right) and switched in shredded coconut for some of the ground almonds in the second batch (the coconut covered ones). I also used dried cranberries in addition to the dates in the coconut Bällchen.

These are easy to make (especially with a food processor) and the recipe is easy to adapt to whatever nuts or dried fruit are in the cupboard. While they are sweet and chocolate-y, they’re also full of fibre (thanks to the dates) and protein (thanks to the almonds).

Have a blissful Easter! Frohe Ostern! 

Glückseligkeit Bällchen mit Kakao und Mandeln
(Cocoa almond Bliss Balls)

Makes about a 18 balls. They keep beautifully in the freezer for a few months – just wrap in waxed paper and tuck into a ziptop bag.

Ingredients

  • 125g (about 20) dried dates, pitted
  • 125g (1 cup) ground almonds
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp oil (coconut, canola, or another neutral variety)
  • 2 tsp cocoa
  • 2 tsp water (reserved from soaking dates)
  • cocoa, coconut, chopped nuts, or a combination for coating balls

Method

  • Soak dates in warm water for 20 minutes; drain dates (reserving some of the soaking water) and chop into small pieces
  • Combine chopped dates, ground almonds, honey, oil, and cocoa; add water as necessary to make a thick mixture that comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a moldable paste
    • This is easiest with a food processor, but totally possible with a wooden spoon and a bit of muscle
  • Using your hands, roll teaspoon-sized globs of the mixture into balls; cover with cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or shredded coconut
  • Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow Bällchen to firm up