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Childhood Memories 8 December 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Baking, Christmas, Happiness, Life, Sinterklaas.
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Today, I received a package from my mother.

It wasn’t supposed to arrive, as generally food stuffs are not allowed through the post. I expected it to be sent back upon arrival, without me even seeing the contents, just like what has happened to my partner’s packages of food before.

But it did arrive!!!

My dearest mum, who is one of the most well-meaning and well-balanced people I know, who sent me a post card every week while I was at boarding school, and who I can literally speak to for hours, sent me this package. I have all my nurturing abilities from her – I love doing things for others to make them happy. I like getting up early and making my partner coffee in the morning. I love cooking and baking for others, spoiling them rotten, to show them that I care. I like making home-made advent calendars for people I care about, and cheer them for the 24 days that it lasts. This is a page straight out of my mum’s book.

We disagree sometimes. And I can tell her that she annoys me, and she still listens. She is amazing. And now she’s sent me a package full of Sinterklaas goodies. For a moment, standing there in the kitchen, having run up the stairs like a child whopping and hooting, after which I ripped open the packaging, emptied the entire contents onto the counter, and stuck bits from all the goodies in my mouth at once, all of a sudden memories came flooding back.

I don’t know if this was my mum’s intent. But standing there, at the kitchen counter, eyes closed, savouring the sweets and cookies, my partner found me smiling, far away in memory land. He had to laugh at me, and my childish expression. He’s mentioned that exact face to me before – the ability I still seem to have to utterly enjoy something for the happiness it brings me at that time. The look of marvel that will flash across my face when I experience something new and turn around to smile at him. He once said he was jealous of my childlike ability to just enjoy something.

And this time it was triggered by the morsels of cookies that evoked my childhood, even the smell brings me back to cold winter nights, snow, rugging up and that special type of electricity that builds in December. And it reminded me of family, spending time around the fire, cat on my lap, parents reading or watching TV, brother being annoying.

And I do not know how my mum managed to get the food through customs, it must have been shear will power. And it’s not like she sent me a package with a few food items amongst other things, it was an entire box of food.

My poor man, who, a year and a half back, when I was in a real dip and feeling home sick, tried to cheer me up in the same way. I remember mentioning to him that I missed my family. I missed having them there. So the little darling hopped on the internet and ordered Dutch treats for me, including liquorice, and other things he knows I love due to my heritage, but which the rest of the world thinks is disgusting, and therefore doesn’t sell. He had meant to surprise me.

Yet this is the package that never made it through customs. He was gutted, because he had really wanted to do something nice for me, and it fell through. And here is mum’s package on my doorstep with no effort at all.

So thank you so much, mum, for the memories and the treats which we will enjoy so much! And thank you to my partner, who I know tried very hard, but whom the postal system thwarted. You both spoil me rotten.


Sinterklaas don’t come around here anymore 6 December 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, Sinterklaas.
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This year, my Sinterklaas was a little sad, mainly because I am in that stage of my life where I am not a kid any more, which means that people will no longer go out of their way to spoil you and feed you treats, and I don’t have kids of my own to spoil, either. Additionally, I am in a country where Sinterklaas is not celebrated, and where ingredients are both hard to come by and expensive.

There were no lollies to be found in my shoes leading up to yesterday (even though I sang many a Sinterklaas song to lure Saint Nicholaas to my house; he must not have heard them).

There were no Kris Kringle presents that needed preparing nor poems to write. (When you reach a certain age in the Netherlands, the whole Sinterklaas coming to your house and giving presents turns into selecting a name out of a hat, finding a present for that person, then wrapping it in a clever way, and finally writing a funny tongue-in-cheek poem about your person and his or her preceding year, to alleviate some of Sinterklaas and Piet’s work on the evening. The idea is that he will be able to spend all his time on the kids rather than on the adults.)

I did have a get together at my house of friends and their families, to eat speculaas (unfilled) and merengue, and to drink mulled wine (which was a hit!), but I did miss my family awfully.

Late at night, I sent a little poem to my brother and parents on behalf of Vietnamese Piet. Soon after, I received gorgeous poems from UK Piet, although I am still not sure whether he asked both my parents to send separate poems, or whether there was an impostor in there somewhere, but I don’t really care. Yay for little gestures when one feels far away from home.

Miss you all.

Gevulde Spekulaas (Filled Speculaas) 5 December 2009

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Today is Sinterklaas. So hereby, I am posting my favourite recipe for a special Sinterklaas treat that I grew up on.

Unfortunately, you will need preparation time for this. As in, a month’s preparation time. And it is labour intensive. But since I do not have all the tools for the recipe with me here in Vietnam, I did not make it this year, and therefore I forgot to tell you a month ago to make the spijs. But here goes the recipe anyways.

Gevulde Spekulaas

Spijs (Almond Paste)

250 g white sugar
250 g almonds
2 eggs
Grated zest from two lemons

– Place the almonds in boiling water so that the skin becomes loose. Peel them. It will be easiest when the water is still hot, you should be able to just press them at one end, and they shoot out of their skin.
– Dry the almonds.
– With an almond grater (or a meat grinder with a very fine grating blade, or even a very sturdy parmigiana grater) grate the almonds in batches. This will take a long time, and lots of elbow grease. My mother used to put the almonds through the grater twice, to make sure the almonds were grated fine enough.
– Tip 1: Do NOT use a kitchen blender, as the cutting blades will release too much of the oil in the almond.
– Tip 2: I find that the grated almond stuff that you can buy in the shops is too mealy and too fine, it needs to keep some of its texture.
– Mix the grated almonds with the sugar, egg and lemon zest.
– Clean a large jar or container really well.
– Tip 3: If using a jam jar, wash it and the lid, then place it open in the oven at 100 C for 20-30 minutes to kill all germs and bacteria.
– Place almond paste in the jar (let it cool first), and place the jar in the fridge.
– Leave for 4-6 weeks to ‘ferment’. The sugar will act like a preservative, but the paste will go much softer and smoother over time.

Gevulde Speculaas:

300 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbs speculaas spices (Tip: you can replace this with 1/2 tbs ground cloves, 1/2 tbs ground ginger and 1 tbs cinnamon. It is not quite the same, as the original mix contains 9 spices, but it will do)
150 g brown sugar (use light brown sugar for a lighter colour of speculaas, but dark brown sugar for a rounder taste)
1 tsp salt
150 g cold butter
4 tbs milk
400-500 g almond paste (it will make the speculaas thicker or thinner, to taste. The above recipe will yield 500 g worth, but if you use less, have no fear, because there are plenty other goodies you can make with the left overs. I often make 750 g of spijs when I make it)
1 egg
About 25 peeled almonds, halved (they are naturally two halves within the peel)

– Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large mixing bowl.
– Add the sugar and salt, then spoon through it to roughly combine the ingredients.
– Cut the butter into small squares with a knife. The smaller the pieces, the easier to combine the dough later. Add to the bowl.
– Add the milk.
– Knead the dough by hand until smooth. Tip: If your hands are too hot, the butter will melt, making the dough too liquid. Try to cool your hands down before this step, either by placing them in cold water, or by holding a bag of ice cubes.
– When smooth, cover the dough and place in fridge for at least 1 hour. Tip: When making this in a hot country like Australia in December (summer), you will have to combine it as quickly as possible, but leave it in the fridge for longer. The longer you leave it, the more the spices will infuse, so leaving it overnight will yield better results.
– Preheat oven to 175 C.
– Use a 4-5 cm deep baking tin. Melt some butter, and make a quick swirl with a pastry brush in your baking tin. This is just to stick the paper down, so don’t worry about covering everything.
– Cover the tin with baking paper. Butter it well on the inside.
– Divide the dough in two equal amounts. Leave one in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
– Take 2 pieces of baking paper, and roll the dough out between them. Alternatively, you can roll the dough out on the counter, but make sure you dust it with flour first.
– Roll out to about 3-5 millimetres thick, and into a square piece that will fit in your baking tin.
– Place the first batch of dough on the baking paper, covering the bottom only.
– Place a layer of spijs onto the bottom layer of dough, all the way to the edges of the baking tin. Even it out with a spoon.
– Roll out the second batch of dough to create a lid, and place on top of the spijs.
– Press the almond halves onto the dough, spacing them 3-4 cm apart. They need to be secure, but visible, and equally spaced (important for cutting)
– Brush with egg.
– Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 40-45 minutes.
– Let the speculaas cool in the tin. When cool, cut into rhomboids. Tip: cut the speculaas into strips about 3-4 cm wide first, then cut diagonally between the almonds. Tip 2: do not cut the speculaas while still hot, as it will crumble.


Borstplaat 2 December 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Baking, Sinterklaas.
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The Dutch celebrate their Christmas like other countries on 25 December every year. However, this celebration has traditionally been present free (although it is becoming more popular now to receive presents then as well.)

When I was little, we would receive presents on 5 December, to celebrate Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas. So, as my advent calendar entries for the next couple of days, I will focus on the delights that are Sinterklaas goodies.

For the uninitiated, a bit of background may be worthwhile.

The Dutch love their sugar. Therefore, the Christmas treats that I am about to reveal to you must not be indulged by the fainthearted. Because, as you will see, why would you want to interfere with the deliciousness that is sugar by adding other ingredients?

You have been warned.

Borstplaat/ Suikerbeestjes

250 g sugar (cane sugar if available)
5 tbs double cream
2 tbs water
food essence (vanilla, lemon, raspberry), cocoa powder or instant coffee


1. Mix the sugar, water and cream in a saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil.

2. Boil for 5 minutes. When a drop of the mixture hardens in cold water, the mixture is done. Remove from the heat.

3. Add the taste of choice.

4. Grease the figurines you will be using thoroughly, then pour the mixture into them. Cool.