Ugly Truffles? Ship Them Anyway!

I have a simple truffle recipe.  Two ingredients.

1 pound chocolate (milk or dark)
1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream.

Melt them together until smooth in a double boiler.
Chill until firm, then scoop with a melon-baller.
Coat as desired.

Trust me on this one, the “Melt them” step took 10 minutes from start to finish.

They are that easy.

The coating… it didn’t go quite so well.

I was showing off.  I guess it helps to be put in your place.  I guess I need to research this again.

I wanted to use White Chocolate to make a dip.  Thinking “how tough could it be?”  I just poured some into the Bain Marie the next day and began melting.

Florida’s climate got in the way, I guess.  The chocolate seized up and turned into a strange waxy grit.  I searched for a solution and they suggested a little oil to push the water out of the mix.  That loosened up the white goo into something smooth, but at a high temperature.

While chocolate melts at 86F, White Chocolate directly out of the steam bath is considerably hotter.  Truffles are barely solid at what passes for room temperature here, even on the coldest week of the year.

Rolling the truffles into a little ball, then chilling them had helped a little bit, but they almost immediately started to melt as I tried to dip them in the white goo.

Thinking “You’re seeing things” I tried a second and a third.

I stopped at 7.  The rest got dusted in a premium cocoa and sent up North to my sister in Cherry Hill, NJ and my friend near Atlanta.  Those were perfect.

Actually, the White Chocolate Ugly Truffle Bombs were tasty.  Misshapen bombs of sweetness with a thick uneven shell of white chocolate tasted great.  They just looked ugly.

Ugly Ugly Misshapen chocolate.  Poor little things.  Let me put you out of your misery….

*CRUNCH*  Mmmmm you taste good. 

That is part of the holiday box thing I do.  If I make a mistake, find something amusing to send along, add something memorable, I just toss it in the box and send it along.

Memorable to whom?  Me.
Amusing?  I have a creative sense of humor.  Tasty but amusing.

In this case, just Ugly.  I may as well Own Up to it, right?

The solution is that there needs to be some fat added back to the coating to have them melt at a lower temperature.  Your garden variety chocolate bar, melting at 86F, does so because there is an accepted percentage of fat added to the bar to help it melt at that point.  The government here and in most countries say that in order for something to be called “Chocolate” there are proportions of everything.  Otherwise it is merely “chocolatey” or “chocolate flavored”.  

Lame imitation of the real food of the gods, you are banished to make Easter Bunnies, Gelt, and those weird coatings on discount branded snacky cakes that never quite taste right.

Add more fat, like the cream in a truffle, they melt at a cooler temperature.  Remove fat and you get something that eventually could become cocoa.

During World War II through Gulf War I, Hershey made up some chocolate bars that melted at a higher temperature by changing the recipe to add egg whites as well as some other tricks.  Living in Pennsylvania at the time, I found some of those “Desert Bars” at the Reading, PA Outlets and got a box or two.  Interesting bars, they had a “harder” texture, but they were definitely what you and I would call chocolate.  It tasted like your garden variety Hershey’s Bar.  These were better than what granddad had in WW II in their K and D Rations, but those earlier military chocolate bars were “better than eating a potato”.

I guess you had to be there for that one.

So the next time I attempt White Chocolate dipped truffles, I’ll add in some cream to lower that melt point so the mix doesn’t have to be quite so hot.

After all, the FDA doesn’t even recognize “White Chocolate” as chocolate since there isn’t any cocoa to be found in the stuff.  It’s just “sweet”.  A “confectionery”.  Great for coating things if you get your recipes right.

Unlike my ugly truffles.

Bubble Wrap is With The Vodka, in a Logical Place

I ship boxes to good friends from time to time.  Sometimes the good friend is family, sometimes not.

About 4 times a year I make up some “specialties”.  Since I have learned how to can Jam and Jelly, I found that I can make the stuff ahead of time and set it aside.  That makes things much easier, and the next time I hear someone say “I don’t like homemade Jam” will be the first.

You probably pull wings off butterflies and hate puppies and kittens too.

But it is a fair amount of effort to get the boxes together.  In fact it’s more grief once the items are selected than it is to ship the things.

Cooking for me is fairly therapeutic.  Yeah, that’s what they call it, Therapeutic.  Calming.  You get in a groove and can forget the grief of the day.

It’s also a bother when you make so much that you have to store the stuff, so may as well share, right?

Just like most of you, I tend to make a lot of online orders.  Here, however we have a hard and fast rule.  Save the bubble wrap, I’m only going to need it later.  Oh and don’t pop it.  That is strictly verboten.  Go pop the Texas Air instead.

Living here in Small House South Florida, there are only so many places to stash things.  Neat and tidy means a place for everything and everything in its place.

Not so fast, cowboy.  Not so fast.

See, that conflicts with the need to shop in bulk that we had discovered.  So instead of going to the supermarket and picking up the handy “big” 8 roll of toilet paper pack in the cheery plastic wrap with the teddy bear on it, we end up with the refrigerator sized 30 pack that lingers in the hallway for a week and a half until the paper towels stored on the same shelf percolate down to a level in the hall closet that I can fit in a few more.

The secret is to double stack things.  If it is good enough for the Chessie System, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific on long haul railroads, I can certainly cram in another 13 rolls of TP in the strange thin shelf under the sink in the bathroom.

But stashing things is my own obsession.  From time to time things go missing.  Why you might ask?  Because being a Logical Person, I put things in a Logical Place.  Have a small nook that a box fits in?  Great!  Put the box in there, and stuff the two 16 packs of soap in there that you got a deal on at that one time until you need it!  Does it matter that you have enough soap to wash yourself, your partner, the dog, and the Jeep until 2026?  No but it was a great deal!

Have a headache?  Oh great!  A deal on “Doctor’s Office Packs of Advil” will fit in the holes of the toilet paper rolls because they are round and there are teeny little gaps that need to be filled!

That even goes to special purpose things.   I have a bottle of Vodka.  It’s lost.  I have no idea where it is.  I was going to use it to make Chocolate Vodka.  Four parts Vodka to 1 part cocoa, stir daily, enjoy it 2 weeks later.

Really?  Yes, and mix it with a drop of vermouth to make a choco-tini.  You can’t live in South Florida without trying one.

Shaken, Not Stirred.

But the vodka went missing about eight and a half months ago and I’m too damn stubborn to get more.  Oh SURE I could try the recipe with Rum but it wouldn’t be the same.  Just because the Rum is clearly available doesn’t mean I can’t wait until I find the Vodka and I haven’t had the stuff in weeks.   Too many calories. 

So looming in the house somewhere is a black hole.  A Slider’s Vortex that goes to a parallel dimension in another Earth.  That Parallel Earth has a great selection of goods.   A single crew sock that I lost in 1995 when I competed in that Inline Skating Marathon the day I did 55 miles in a morning skating the route from Philadelphia to Valley Forge and back and forth and ….

Yeah the sock is there.  Probably still sweaty from the effort.

There’s my car from when I was a kid.  Beautiful grey Cadillac with the tail fins.  I know I put that in a cabinet to hide if from my sister and my father.   My sister would get it sticky with something she was eating and my father had a habit of “throwing away things” that would only end up at my cousin’s house because “You Weren’t Using It”.

Yeah.  You use things like that every day of the week.

But they’re all protected.  They are cushioned with bags of packing peanuts.  The packing peanuts are wrapped in bubble wrap of all sorts.  Pink Anti-Static bubble wrap.  Bags from shipping.  The ones I got in a shipment from Atlanta that had UPS stamped all over them.

And that roll.   Giant roll of bubble wrap.   Kevin took pity on me back about the time that the Vodka bottle went to that parallel Earth where Dinosaurs roam eating sweat-socks and old metal toy cars, but only the grey ones.   The massive plastic roll of bubble wrap has slid there and bounced around and wrapped that bottle so it can be safe.   I’m sure of it.   I can hear the diminutive Heather from Poltergeist saying “They’re Heere…” as they float around the room in a giddy vortex and then in a giant sucking noise are sucked into that world and gone to me forever.

I guess I’ll have to make do.  There’s a manufacturer North of here.  They cut custom foam rubber bits.  That’s what I’ll do.  I’ll wait.  They have bins of scrap that I could use!  Wrap jars of home made Cherry, Key Lime, and Lemon jams and curds in sheets of foam rubber!  That would save me from having to go to some office supply store and buy the crap like a normal person!

Yeah that’s the ticket!  But wait… it will just get sucked into that vortex won’t it?

But that’s not quite right.  The other day?  I found a cache of soap from 2011!  That stuff was good.  I’m just waiting though.  The Vortex.  Sometimes it’s been good.  You know those stories about the hoards of old Roman coins that are found sometimes in the English Midlands?  Great piles of the things?   They’re there because they fell into the same vortex.  Right next to the bubble wrap, the toy car, the bottle of vodka, and my blasted bubble wrap!

Little Jon’s Fire Truck

When my nephew Jon was small, I was able to get him a toy that lasted him most of his childhood until he discovered video games and grew out of such things.

I was lucky enough to be able to find things that a kid liked, simply because I would look at the things I thought I’d like and get them.   Add to that there were a lot of places to pick that sort of thing up near where I lived.  

It gave me an excuse to look at things I had grown out of but hadn’t lost an appreciation for, and a chance to see that same joy in the eyes of another.

So that season, I picked up a large fire truck.  Big and red and beefy, I thought it might last a week.  Made of plastic so it wouldn’t cut him if he got his fingers in the wrong place, thick plastic so it just might survive a fall down the steps from the second floor, and just enough fiddly bits and pieces so that it might be interesting.

The other thing it did, that I didn’t realize until he got his little hands on it, was if you pushed it, it made a siren sound.

Wrapped up in bright paper, glued on the seams, it was “shelled” like a peanut as soon as he got it.  

Little blue eyes went huge when he saw this truck as he tried to get it out of the caddy.  Of course I helped him out there.  

When I removed it from the packaging, we heard it for the first time.   A grunt.   The wheels had turned and it made a small siren sound.

That was it.  Luckily all his gifts were opened and set aside by then. 

For a two year old kid who could barely walk, this truck became a crutch to help him learn how to walk and then to run.  

For his mother and grandmother, it was going to become something that had to be rationed.

This toy became the proverbial drum set you give to the neighbor’s kid.  For that year it was his favorite.   Every time it got set aside because there was something new, it wasn’t for long.   He’d go back to the fire truck when the newness of some other plastic gadget waned. 

He’d haul himself upright then place his toddler’s hands on the truck, point it in the direction he wanted to go and push.   We knew that when Jon was in the middle of the Fire Truck Play Time, the TV was turned off, and it became one thing that parents never seem to do enough of – pay attention to the kid. 

My mother, his grandmother, would try to hide the thing on him when she had enough of the siren and the rumble of him rolling it out into the foyer, but it simply didn’t work.   He’d tear apart the house until either she relented or he found it.

Path of least resistance was to let him have his fun.

Eventually, of course, he’d lose interest in the toy, but that would take years.   I think he was in school when it finally went to where ever childhood toys went when they were outgrown.   The last time I saw it was in the garage of the big house on the hill, gathering dust, well into his teen years.

Sometimes, you just get the right gift, and it annoys the hell out of everyone around you.  Never mind them, it made a kid really happy for years.  Besides, I never did get him a drum set.  I think he would have liked a drum set.  After all, his mom got a guitar once…

Pack a Box Like Playing Tetris

You know it’s a job when it takes an hour a box to pack each one.

I had three boxes to send out for gifts yesterday, and now (sound of hands wiping against pants) it’s all done. 

A couple years ago, I got a rather vague comment along the lines that I have to be more careful in packing things sent by the mail.  More like “You’ve got to learn how to do this”, with no more explanation.  

Since then I’ve been packing fragile things like they’re going to Mars.  

It starts sometime around October.   The holidays are looming, it wasn’t even Halloween, Xmas decorations were beginning to appear in the malls.  Ahh the spirit of Shopping-Mass!   As time went on, every time I’d get something shipped to me, if the boxes were “small”, I’d save them. 

You know I’ll need that!  Give me the box, I’ll store it!  Oooh Bubble Wrap!  Don’t you dare pop that!

I had a tower growing.   Boxes that were too complex to “flat pack” and reassemble ended up on the Dining Room Table.  The “flat pack” broken down boxes were stuffed behind the laundry box in the kitchen and in the laundry room itself in every nook and cranny I could find.

By the time Thanksgiving hits, my mind ticked over into High Gear.  I could make Cookies!  I could make Fudge!  I could Roast Coffee!  I have all these Things!  Lets send them off!

The day after Thanksgiving I began roasting coffee, a logistical challenge in itself.  It isn’t difficult to roast coffee if you have the right popcorn popper, but there is a timing thing.   I put the beans in the machine, push it out the window, and plug it into the wall.  Six minutes later plus or minus 30 seconds depending on the temperature outside in the Lanai, the coffee is done, poured onto a large dinner plate to cool.  Then wait 30 minutes for the popper to cool and repeat.  The thing is as the sun comes up it heats the roof and the Lanai can go from 70F to 90F in an hour on a clear day.  That changes the roast.  One batch is “medium” at 6 minutes 10, the next would be burned Starbucks beans.   So I spread that out over a week to get my 12 batches of coffee to send out.

Quality is my motto!  Can’t rush perfection!  More Business Buzzwords! 

Similar micromanagement went into making the cookies – Chocolate Chips, Pecans, Butterscotch Chips, Butter, and Eggs were bought.  Cookies made in three separate batches over three days were baked then frozen to keep them fresh.  Two kinds of Rocky Road Fudge was made, cooled, cut, and immediately frozen.

Finally there were some specific handmade gifts that were to go to specific people.  Bamboo smartphone dock to one, wind chimes to another.

All these things needed care to find their way into boxes.  After all, you don’t want coffee grounds all over the fudge that would be inside of the wind chimes do you?  Admittedly the fudge is an experiment in packing logistics itself.  It’s winter and once it gets North of Florida, it should re-freeze at the outdoor temperatures “up there”.  I’m looking forward to hearing about how that stuff fared.

Boxed each kind of thing up when the boxes were available.  Made other boxes for strangely shaped things.

I’m hungry what time is it?  12:30?  I’ve been at this for 2 hours?  Throw some pork into the microwave and go back at it.

Hmmm, that pork smells great, got to toast some rolls…  1PM and I’m wandering around the house with a slab of pork and cheese on a toasted English Muffin as Box 2 is done.

Luckily by 1:30 the last box was built and sitting by the door.  By 2:30 I was back home thinking I had just played a game of Tetris that my friends and family would unwind as they find a holiday letter with a hand signature that was scanned at the bottom of the letter and printed on.

Hey, if I have to write it out, I may as well let the printer do it for me!

So the next time you open a box, consider the effort that went into making the mundane packaging.

Then toss it out with the rest of the garbage and get your New Thing!  Who doesn’t like New Things?

Christmas 2011 – Birth of a New Tradition

I completely get the whole Occupy mindset. 

There are millions of people unemployed and underemployed while the economy sputters and stalls out.  Many of those folks work at small businesses or are consultants that are struggling for survival and hoping they can get through January and February until the after Holiday slow down ends.

They’re out there protesting while Fox Noise is misinforming the world about them and showing pictures of protesters standing around with cups of “Corporate Coffee” or bags from that monstrously large big box chain store that sucked the life out of the downtown area that had shop after shop close down.

Here’s a thought – instead of trucking out to the local Mall and buying something from a large faceless corporation based in a big city like New York, Chicago or worse – Bentonville, Arkansas (CRINGE!), why not find a small local business and patronize them.  Put the money back into the community and you may just save your neighbor from having to go under – and thereby forestalling their house becoming foreclosed upon and another homeless family moving back to Mom and Dads… Or Worse.

I’ll quiet down, the post below was sent to me and I think it says it much better than I would.  For now, I’m going to “occupy my chair” and study some technology for a client I’m consulting for.  Just count me in the 99%.

Christmas 2011 — Birth of a New Tradition
As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods — merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor.

This year will be different. This year Americans will give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift-giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands.  Yes there is!

It’s time to think outside the box, people.  Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper?

Everyone — yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut.  How about gift certificates from your local American hair salon or barber?

Gym membership?  It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.

Who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed?  Small, American-owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates.

Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plunking down the Benjamins on a Chinese made flat screen?  Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants — all offering gift certificates.  And, if your intended isn’t the fancy eatery sort, what about a half-dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint.  Remember, folks this isn’t about big National chains — this is about supporting your home town Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn’t use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy?

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom?  Mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.

My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

OK, you were looking for something more personal.  Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves.  They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.

Plan your holiday outings at local, owner-operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip.  And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theater.

Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.

Honestly, people, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house?  When you buy a five dollar string of light, about fifty cents stays in the community.  If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip.

You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city.  Christmas is now about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And, when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine.

THIS is the new American Christmas tradition.

Forward this to everyone on your mailing list — post it to discussion groups — throw up a post on Craigslist in the Rants and Raves section in your city — send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations, and TV news departments. This is a revolution of caring about each other, and isn’t that what Christmas is about?