why having strong willpower can be annoying

When I walked in to work this morning (I had yesterday – Friday – off in exchange for working Saturday), there was an open packet of TimTams (dark chocolate, no less!) and a half-full box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates on the table in the tea room. Apparently these were brought in as a thank-you gift by the pharmacist who’d just finished up with us. Judging by the state of not-completely-consumed-ness, I’d guess she dropped by later in the afternoon, or she’d actually brought in a whole lot more food/chocolate, and that’s why there were left-overs.

Anyway, I’d gotten to work about 15-20 minutes early, so I was alone in the tea room for a bit, trying to ignore the chocolate bounty before me. The internal struggle that ensued sort of epitomises why I think having strong willpower can be annoying. Mostly it’s annoying to the part of me that just wants to eat chocolate and cake and ice-cream, and worry about calories later, but it’s still annoying.

I’m would credit my mum for this superhuman resistance to treats and discipline with portion control (where most people might cut a cake into eight pieces, she’ll divide it into about 16) but she’s also the one who tends to overfeed me (and the rest of the family) by preparing way too much food (there are always left-overs in the fridge). As such, I think I can only give her partial credit. The rest of it I’ll have to attribute to my own self-developed paranoia – not just about unnecessary calories but about atherosclerosis, bowel cancer, diabetes – pretty much anything that has some sort of causal link to poor diet (and that was just the start of the alphabet!)

Now I just want to make it clear that I’m not actually overtly paranoid about all those things; it’s just something that resides at the back of my mind. It’s the little voice that sometimes carries on a bit, but at other times it doesn’t even notice what I’m doing. Usually I can convince this voice that it’s ok if I just have one bite or one piece or one slice. It’s all part of the pleasure of life, and what is life without pleasures?

So it’s generally easy enough to quieten this voice, but then my willpower can sometimes take on a life of its own. It doesn’t need that little paranoid voice at all. “Just don’t eat it,” it will say, as if it was that simple. “You had breakfast dessert today; you don’t need this.” (For the record, I don’t always eat breakfast-dessert, but it seems that my willpower and paranoia both really like to sleep in, so, naturally, I’m going to take advantage of that. How they find out later, I don’t know.)

It’s hard being the adjudicator between willpower and gluttony, and it’s pretty annoying when I know that willpower is making a far better case than gluttony is.

…But now and then gluttony will put forward the case for my mental well-being.

So, you know what, today I had a TimTam and a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. Then I walked away from the tea room and didn’t look back.

peanut butter and jelly

It’s been some time coming, but I’ve finally had another attempt at making truffles. Since my coconut and lime truffles worked so well, and got such good feedback from my colleagues, I’ve been meaning to make more truffles, experimenting with ingredients and flavour combinations. I like making truffles because you can play around with different flavours, but mostly because it’s generally easier and requires fewer ingredients than baking a cake (which I also enjoy, but sometimes just don’t have the time or energy for).

Another big bonus is that it’s easier to adjust quantities/proportions as you prepare the truffle mix, whereas baking tends to require very (or at least reasonably) accurate measurements. If you’ve read my previous posts on baking, or if I’ve told you of my baking adventures before, you’ll know that I’m not great with precise measurements and sticking to recipes…

Anyway, I can’t remember when the inspiration hit me, but I believe it was while talking to a colleague about the gloriousness of peanut butter. I reckon PB is great as it is, on toast or bread, but I especially like it with jam. From there, I started thinking about how I could recreate the flavours of a good PB&J sandwich in a truffle form, and the following recipe was born:

Ingredients:

  • ~170-180mL (thickened) cream
  • 4 tbsp smooth peanut butter (I guess you could use crunchy PB but I was worried about the peanuts going soft/weird while being cooked in the cream …but that could just be me being paranoid)
  • ~240g dark chocolate (melting chips, or a cut-up block)
  • 1 small tin/jar of some sort of fruit-flavoured hard candy, crushed with a mortar & pestle to get little granules of candy (I reckon it works best if you get it to just bigger than raw sugar granule size)

I think the process for all truffles is basically the same, so once you’ve mastered one, you’ll probably find it easy enough to adapt for other flavours. In this case, I just put the cream and PB into a saucepan to heat slowly, stirring until the PB melted and incorporated into the cream. Once it looked like it was just about to come to a simmer, I took it off the heat and added the chocolate, stirring until it all melted.

At this point, I contemplated adding choc chips (like the ones you use for baking cookies) to give an internal crunch element to kind of resemble the texture of crunchy PB, but I didn’t really have that many, so I left them out. Besides, I figured that the candy coating would give enough of a crunch.

After leaving the truffle mix in the fridge to cool overnight, I cut it up (because too lazy to use a melon baller and scoop out individual ones), and rolled it in the candy crumbs/powder.

I’m really bad at remembering to take photos of food, so of course I don’t have a photo, but I reckon they looked pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. The candy I used was red/pink, so just imagine little cubes of dark chocolate covered in little pink jewels. It gets a bit of a reaction. I will say, however, that if the candy powder is too fine, it kind of melts when applied to the truffles, and then it becomes quite sticky (although people said it was worth the stickiness).

When I did my taste-test at home, I was actually a bit apprehensive. It worked, but the flavour wasn’t as amazing as the coconut and lime truffles (sorry I keep mentioning those, but I feel like I set too high a benchmark when I made them). But you do get the nice combination of salty, creamy peanut butter and sugary fruit (or should that be “fruity sugar”?) so I was satisfied. What I really judge a recipe’s success on, however, is the reaction I get from others, particularly if anyone asks for the recipe because it means they liked it enough to want to make it themselves. On this criteria, I’m very pleased (and relieved) to say that these PB&J truffles passed 🙂

quick post – origin

This has been one of those weeks that feels like it’s dragging on, but at the same time feels like it’s just slipping away too quickly. I was going to sit down and write a proper post tonight because I’m starting to worry that I won’t fit in a post by the end of this week, but one thing after another (namely leaving work late, and then reading other people’s blogs) has meant that it’s now past my (poorly) self-imposed bedtime, and I really shouldn’t be typing this but am persisting anyway.

I’ve started keeping a list of posting topics/ideas for weeks like this when I’m a bit stuck or at a loss for what to write, but since this is just going to be a short post, I’m not going to use those.

What I actually wanted to say (which I possibly could have said on Twitter …maybe … I mean, I think the reason I don’t use Twitter much is because I don’t like the 140 character limit) is about State of Origin.

Last night was game 2 of this year’s State of Origin (rugby league, for those of you unfamiliar with our “football” – well, one of our football codes). It was a disappointing game (mostly because of the poor referee calls at certain critical points of the game) but there were some positives.

For one, I thought it was great (maybe even heart-warming) to see that even when a player stuffed up (e.g. fumbled or dropped the ball), his team mates don’t pay him out or get angry or whatever. They just give him a pat on the shoulder and got on with the game because it’s ok because everyone’s human.

I also like how even though some commentators clearly support one side, they will call out the ref for making a poor decision even if it was in their team’s favour. For something like State of Origin, everyone picks a side (unless you have no ties to QLD or NSW and really don’t give a damn), but loyalty to your team comes after the integrity of the sport.

Ok, I’m going to go to sleep now. I may or may not try to write a more decent post on the week-end…

rime & reason

Whenever I think about primary school, grade five is the year that stands out the most. Grade four was pretty good, too, I suppose, but I remember a lot from grade five. These aren’t necessarily educational things or what we actually learnt about, but just random memories. I remember that we played “sky ball” a lot, we did a lot of multiplication grids, we took turns being the “reading monitor” whenever we had quiet reading time, and it was the first time that we had a classroom with a whiteboard instead of a blackboard.

Something else that is quite prominent in my memory of that year of my childhood is that we had this sort of “guest teacher” who would come in for maybe an hour each week, for several weeks of the year, and he would teach us poetry. Every lesson, he would hand out copies of poems, and he’d tell us about the stories behind the words and the poets. I don’t remember exactly what he looks like (his image is a bit blurred in my memory, but I think he was a jolly old man who was a bit round in the face and waist) but he had the sort of voice made for poems and storytelling. Whether the poem was solemn, lively, suspenseful or morose – he told it perfectly.

When we were kids, my sister and I owned this big illustrated book of children’s poems (you know, the sort of big hardcover book with nice glossy pages), so this was certainly not my first exposure to poetry. I’m pretty sure that I liked poetry before this guy came along, but when I think of poetry – and the power of poetry – I think of those lessons in fifth grade.

It was back then that I first learnt about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Of course, he didn’t teach us the full poem – just an excerpt, which happened to include the following verse:

Water, water every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

This happens to be, for reasons beyond my grasp, my most favourite poem verse, and the only one that I can recite by heart. Some of you may have noticed that the title of my previous post was inspired by this verse.

I actually used to write poems – mostly about sunsets or rainy days or birds flying or something similar – and I would sometimes just sit down and write verse after verse. More commonly, however, I reckon I’d just be looking out the window, or day-dreaming, and then I’d just start composing an impromptu poem. It was like my thoughts just naturally morphed into verse, as naturally as ducks flying in formation.

I don’t write poems any more, of course. I probably haven’t written poetry since high school. And I don’t read poetry either (sorry to all those bloggers out there who write poetry – as soon as I recognise your post is a poem, I skip right over it).

So what has changed?

This might seem quite immature but, in my opinion, good poems should rhyme. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your imagery is, or how emotionally evocative your words are, if it doesn’t rhyme, I probably can’t read it without rolling my eyes (at least a little bit). Haikus I kind of get, but they’re probably the only exception. My theory is that as I grew up and was introduced to non-rhyming poetry, I kind of got put off by its ubiquity, and eventually rhyming poems didn’t appeal to me either.

Also, I don’t know anyone who likes/writes/reads poetry, so maybe it’s just “uncool” in my crowd, and somewhere along the line I subconsciously decided to lose interest in it.

Don’t get me wrong here – I don’t hate poems. I just don’t really like them either. I think they have their place in special occasions – to give solace at funerals, express love at weddings, or provide encouragement through hardships – but they’re not an every day thing; they don’t come naturally to me any more.

(To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know where this post was going to go… I just randomly felt like writing about my relationship with poetry… Feel free to share some of your own favourite poems, but, you know, I probably won’t read them unless you really sell them to me.)

paper, paper everywhere

I have a confession to make: I am a paper hoarder. I hoard scrap paper.

I wouldn’t say that it’s out of control (hoarders usually don’t describe their hoarding as “out of control”) but I seem to be afflicted more than the average person. As I write this, at my desk at home, I am not surrounded by mountains of paper. The only things on my desk are my laptop and a few pharmacy journals that I’ve been meaning to read since a few months ago (I’m also good at procrastinating, but that’s a problem for another post). There’s also a notepad and a pen, but that’s it. I like to keep my desk neat and clutter-free. I’m the same at work, and I’m sure that my co-workers would attest to that.

However, if you look to that table beside my desk, you will find a neat little stack of paper about 10cm high (granted, these are sheets of A4 that have been folded in half, so it’d really only be about 5cm high if they were unfolded). These sheets are all printed on one side, blank on the other. They have served their primary purpose, and are no longer needed. Yet, something in my mind tells me that, instead of throwing them straight into the recycling bin, I should keep them because I can probably use the blank side to write something – a list, a note, a reminder.

If you take a closer look around, you’ll also find more paper – in a maroon folder, and in a red clipboard (what can I say? I’m a Queenslander). These each hold maybe a 1cm stack each of old school/uni worksheets or notes that are no longer needed. I’ll never read these again, but I can’t throw them away without scribbling something on the reverse.

I wish I could stop there but, unfortunately, there is more. There are notepads, notebooks, mini notebooks, and post-it notes. I don’t think I’ve ever bought any of these myself; people just gift them to me (or sometimes they’re freebies at expos or conventions). Some of these are completely empty, some are half-filled, some just have a few pages of notes. I reckon this category of paper is not as bad because they each have a set purpose (well, most of them do). One book is for recipes, one for blog post ideas; I use post-it notes (although sparingly) to remind me of important dates or information; and I have a notebook for writing down interesting points in the books I’m reading. And the empty ones are for… well, when I run out of pages in the ones I’m currently using…

At work, it’s a similar issue, but at least I have thoughtful colleagues who help keep my paper hoarding in check. To be fair, we always need scrap paper at work, and we always need post-it notes (my goodness, we use so many post-it notes!). If someone has to take clean paper out of the printer tray to use as scrap paper, I cringe a little inside.

I learnt recently that, in Australia, we use on average about 230kg of paper per person per year. 230kg! In hindsight, this probably wasn’t a great statistic for me to learn because I might end up hoarding even more paper… But I’ve always been careful about paper usage. I’ll print duplex if appropriate; I’ll scan and email documents rather than copy and send physical copies; I avoid printing things unless I absolutely have to; and I try to condense/limit what I print to the lowest number of pages.

And in case you’re wondering, I do use my stacks of scrap paper at home: I jot down recipes to test (which will be transferred to the recipe book once successfully completed), I copy out my work roster so that I don’t have to print it, I scribble notes about things I need to do (emails to send, events to look up, etc), and sometimes I just doodle randomly because I’m too mentally exhausted to read or write or do anything other than move a pencil back and forth across a page to create odd shapes. It’s just that I accumulate paper faster than I use it.

I have wondered about how this habit developed, and I have a few theories. First, in grade six, we spent a significant part of the year learning about the environment and the plethora of ways in which we are killing the earth. This was potentially mentally scarring, and caused me to become overly concerned about paper conservation (re-use and then recycle!). Another theory is that, all my life, I’ve seen my mum write grocery lists on scrap paper, and even on used envelopes (the ones that  bills get sent in, where the return address isn’t written on the back), so I subconsciously developed this idea that scrap paper is very useful, and I must keep all of it. Another theory is that I’m just a bit weird, and this is just one of those weird things I do.

coconut + lime + dark chocolate

I reckon the best thing about baking is being able to create something delicious, and then share that with family/friends, and just watching them enjoy it. It’s really something special, hey?

Well, after work on Sunday, I could not be stuffed baking anything, so I decided to just make truffles. No special occasion, but I’ve just been compulsively buying dark chocolate to kind of give myself an excuse to use it. I was also inspired by this post on Jane’s Patisserie, and wanted to experiement around with some flavours.

Also, apparently you can get the same satisfaction from sharing home-made truffles as you get from sharing a home-baked cake. I took my truffles in to work with me today, and everyone loved them, so I thought maybe it was worth sharing the recipe here (especially since I also got a few recipe requests)

Truffles are amazingly easy to make, which makes me like them even more. I’d previously made a chocolate cake with lime and coconut, so I figured the same thing should work in truffle form (not sure if it still counts as an experiment then, but oh well…)

As well as being easy to make, there were only four ingredients:

  • ~165mL coconut cream (I just happened to have a small tin in the pantry that was exactly this amount. I weighed it in the tin to be ~200g, which, yes, is kind of a meaningless value since I didn’t weigh the empty tin)
  • ~365g dark chocolate (I’ve put the “approximately” tilde on this one because I ate a bit of the chocolate before it went in. You’ve got to check for quality, right?)
  • ~2 tsp Gin Gin & Dry lime powder (I assume lime zest would work fine as well)
  • enough dessicated coconut to coat truffles

All I did was heat the cream with the lime powder on a low heat until it was just about to boil. Then I took it off the heat, and added the chocolate, stirring until it all melted. It was then a simple case of pouring it into a lined container, and waiting for it to set (I left it overnight). Once set, because I was too lazy to scoop them out individually, I just cut them into squares, and kind of rolled them into ball-like shapes while coating them in dessicated coconut.

Here’s a photo (but it’s not very good because I took the good ones to work, and completely forgot to take a photo, so these are the few random pieces I kept at home)

Coconut and lime truffles (well, you get the general idea...)

Coconut and lime truffles (well, you get the general idea…)

I’m not a truffle expert (yet) but I assume you can just adjust the cream/chocolate ratio depending on whether you prefer the truffles softer/harder. The ratio I used seemed to give a satisfyingly rich truffle.