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!

Small complaints; big picture happiness

Forest looking like a watercolour painting
Photo credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

Yesterday was one of those days where all the little things were a bit off. I woke up feeling discontented and uneasy. What I thought would be an easy shopping expedition proved fruitless. One of our bikes blew a tire, necessitating a long walk on what may have been the hottest day of the year and resulting in seriously sore feet. Doing laundry was needlessly complicated and involved way too much to-ing and fro-ing.

It was a day filled with small complaints that made it easy to forget that two major things went right: we successfully registered ourselves in Munich and got some very good news from Vancouver.

The Anmeldung process was even easier the second time around (and our first ‘permanent’ address registration was pretty simple), although the system is a little different in Munich than in the rest of Germany. No questions at all from the government clerk, just a few words exchanged in German and an official stamp. The hardest part was the over-heated 45 minute wait and managing that nervous feeling that something would go wrong.

Then later in the day, very good news came from my parents that made me feel like my decision to return to Germany earlier this week was the right one.

With all of my small complaints, it was easy for me to feel as though yesterday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day… but it wasn’t. It was a great day.

That’s the joy of perspective. Looking close up at all the little things, I was unhappy. Looking at the big picture, I was exactly the opposite.

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

 

Full moon marker

Sunset with a full moon at Camp Figtree Lodge, South Africa
South African sunset with full moon
Photo © John Matheson

Most celestial movements pass me by. I generally don’t remark on whether Venus or Mars are visible. I’ve never stayed up late to watch a meteor shower. I couldn’t tell you when there might be a comet passing by.

But I do notice a full moon.

I’m not drawn to full moons for astronomical, tidal, or astrological purposes, I simply like that they help me remember; I often recall where I’ve been for past full moons and who I’ve been with.

Many, many full moons ago I was in South Africa with my brother. He took phenomenal photos (like the one on the right) of the full moon while we were staying at Camp Figtree Lodge. Every full moon since then has helped me remember that incredible trip and made me think about our adventures together.

Fewer full moons ago, my husband and I vacationed in Maui with good friends. On the night of a full moon we walked back to our condo after dinner and my husband snapped a couple photos of the sky. Sadly, none of those pictures turned out, but seeing the moon at it’s fullest still brings back memories of that trip -and reminds me that I’m lucky to have such friends.

Full moon in Neuss
Full moon in Neuss, Germany

And then there was the full moon of the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot. I participated in a meditation to mark the full moon at Sat Nam (the forerunner to Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre) before going to a friends’ to watch the last part of the hockey game. When I see a full moon now, I remember the foreboding sense that something was coming and the shock of seeing the first plumes of smoke coming from downtown. It makes me think of the bad behaviour that can be spawned from angry drunks and remember that sometimes bad things happen to good cities.

Thankfully, not all full moon meditations have been followed by such dramatic events! I’ve participated in many such meditations at Bound Lotus, including a few with my dog Sofie, and the full moon brings back those grounding experiences and makes me miss the welcoming community at the studio.

I also like thinking that no matter where people I love are (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, London, Berlin, Beijing, or anywhere else), they may also be looking up at the full moon – seeing the same thing I am.

Rather sappily, it reminds me of that song from that mouse movie. (A quick search reveals that the song is Somewhere Out There  from An American Tail.)

Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight,
Someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight.

When the full moon comes out later tonight, I’ll be in Paris with my husband and our dog. Despite all the glittering lights, I’m sure I’ll find a few moments to look up at the sky – to think of full moons past, to remember the amazing people I’ve shared them with, and to dream of those to come.

The cure for boredom

The cure for boredom is curiosityMy dog has been particularly curious recently. Lots of sniffing, cautious cat approaches, and lingering looks towards where rabbits used to be.

Maybe it’s the effects of longer days and more sun, but it’s certainly lifted whatever winter ennui Sofie had been feeling.

It’s made me think of the Dorothy Parker quote below as there’s certainly no cure for Sofie’s curiosity, which borders on obsession!

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Dorothy Parker
American author

Unforeseen fearlessness

Laura in plank at the in orbit exhibitBy nature I am not fearless. I am a worrier, a planner, a nail-biting worst-case-scenario imaginer.

But somehow, suspended more than 25 metres (82 feet or around five stories) above a marble floor on steel mesh, I became unflinchingly brave.

We went to K21 last week specifically to see in orbit – an interactive exhibit by Tomás Saraceno. K21 is one of the three venues of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (or state art collection) in Düsseldorf and in orbit is the largest piece they’ve ever displayed.

It’s made up of three interconnected levels of steel mesh, interspersed with giant inflated spheres and suspended under the glass roof of the Ständehaus building. Saraceno was inspired by spiderwebs and spent years studying how different species create different patterns.

in orbit is huge and strange and amazing from all perspectives – particularly from within.

Visitors can don coveralls and climb into the structure; becoming part of the exhibit, altering the tension on the steel wires, and interacting with each other and those watching.

While waiting to get into the coveralls, I was impatient. During the very short safety briefing, I started to get a bit anxious. And then walking up the scaffolding (which felt less than rock solid), the butterflies started. As I trepidatiously put a first foot on the mesh, my heart was pounding. Looking down and seeing the polished stone floor five floors below, I began to think this was a bad idea.

I quickly dropped my bum onto the mesh out a self-preserving instinct that increased physical contact would mean increased safety. The path of least resistance led to a steep down-slope and before I knew it I was sliding down the mesh as though it was snow and I was on a toboggan.

Two images of Laura at the in orbit exhibitThat slide brought on a childlike sense of elation and my nervousness evaporated. While part of my brain still screamed “Stop!” when I moved from overlapping layers of mesh to a single stratum, I got quite comfortable being suspended.

I climbed the ‘walls,’ attempted a couple yoga poses, flopped onto the pillows, ‘swam’ on my belly, marveled at the huge blown-up spheres, clambered along the wires, reveled in the novelty of walking on air… all while I grinned madly.

I could not anticipate my fearlessness before stepping onto the mesh, but there it was. Brave, adventurous, blithely embracing the amazingness of the moment.

Chalked doors

Four images of chalk (or chalk-like stickers) on doorsOn my first walk through our new neighbourhood I noticed black stickers with chalk writing on a number of doors. I paid closer attention on subsequent walks and started noticing actual chalk on doorways as well.

Algebra on door frames? A complicated census system? A formula for garbage pick-up?

Given that Lent had just begun and I hadn’t noticed anything like this before, I theorized that the markings had something to do with Easter. A bit of research revealed that I was right about their religious nature, but wrong about the occasion.

The chalk markings are a traditional Catholic house blessing in Germany done around Epiphany (6 January) every year. The digits represent the year to come (2014 in the picture at top left) and the letters stand for either the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house) or names of the three wise men (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). The mathematical operators have folkloric meaning as well: the multiplication sign or asterisk (*) is for the Star of Bethlehem and the plus symbols (+++) represent the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While the majority of doorways in our neighbourhood are unmarked, there are sizable number that have been chalked and some even have long lists from previous years. It’s clear that Neuss is more Catholic (or at least more into chalk and blessings!) than Berlin as there’s a whole set of traditions around Epiphany that we didn’t see any trace of in Germany’s more secular capital.

Learning about local traditions like this is one of the reasons that my husband and I wanted to live in different regions of Germany. Exploring a different country from a less-tourist perspective was a motivating factor for starting this adventure and it’s fantastic when those explorations lead to a little more understanding of local customs.

And with Easter just around the corner, who knows what other new-to-us traditions will pop up!