Month: December 2020

Bûche de Noël

The Snook is a big fan of Stella Parks’s recipes, and at some point in the last year, I bookmarked her Classic Chocolate Yule Log with the idea of challenging him to make it for Christmas. Folks, I didn’t think he’d actually do it. I throw out these ridiculous schemes and he’s usually game for an attempt, but I figured with this one, he’d roll his eyes and settle for something simpler. Instead he blew me away. I mean, look at that! THERE’S A PISTACHIO PASTE FROG. This is literally 200% better than I expected, and I knew he was a good baker. I’m still amazed, and we’ve already eaten most of it. Lucky for you, he documented a great deal of the preparation.

This was a multiple day endeavour, and it all started with him making the homemade pistachio paste. We ended up ordering the pistachios from, because they were the only ones we could find that weren’t already roasted and salted. We couldn’t find orange flower water at all, so he just left it out.

Toasted Sugar

The next day, he toasted sugar in a skillet in the oven. He took that photo to show the difference in the toasted sugar vs. untoasted.

Making buttercream

The next step was to use the pistachio paste to make pistachio buttercream frosting. He ended up doing a lot of complicated math to adjust the quantity of the recipe, but all you need to know is: he had to separate some eggs, mix them with the toasted sugar, and add booze. Then he cooked the mixture over a makeshift double-boiler until it reached the appropriate temperature. Then he whipped it in the KitchenAid, added loads of butter, and then eventually the pistachio paste. The end result looked a lot like guacamole!

Next up were the meringue mushrooms. For these he had to mix egg whites with toasted sugar and vanilla (we couldn’t find cream of tartar so he used a tiny bit of vinegar) and then again cook this mixture on the double-boiler. Then he whipped it up, put it in a piping bag, and piped out dozens of mushroom caps and stems. He used his finger to smooth the points, and they cooked in a low oven for the better part of a day. He finished them by rubbing on cocoa powder to look like dirt.

On the final day, it was time to bake the cake. He used one of our oven trays and spread the batter, and then baked it for only 12 minutes (because it’s so thin). He took it out and let it cool to nearly room temperature. Then he spread on the pistachio buttercream and rolled it up. He left it rolled up to set for a short time, and we were amazed to see that it didn’t crack at all! He cut off a bit to fashion the branch…

…and then it was time to decorate! He made chocolate ganache (with cream, melted chocolate, and sugar) to ice the log and to glue the mushrooms together, and he used fork tines to sculpt the “bark”. He dusted the whole thing with cocoa and pistachio dust, and he used some of the leftover pistachio paste to fashion a tiny tree frog. Isn’t it AMAZING? The best part is that it tastes so good – like the chocolate cake of your dreams. He’s the best. ❤️ Thanks, Snookums…

Finished Yule Log and proud chef


Not long after we moved to Germany, I started noticing people power-walking with ski poles in nearly every park. I looked on in envy. “I want sticks too!” Finally for Christmas, I got my very own sticks (aka trekking poles)! 😂

Streaming and Knitting (and Sewing)

So this is a thing that I’m doing now. It was partly inspired by the fact that I’ve had to do some Twitch streaming in recent months for my new job, and I’ve been learning more how it works. It was also partly inspired by the fact that we’re in lockdown in Germany, and I think I’m really, really missing having people around. (Besides Rodd, of course, who is great, but this extrovert needs a crowd, right?)

And so I decided to stream myself knitting, live on Twitch, and I’ve kept it up at least once a week since. I generally go for about an hour at a time, and some days I’ve done an extra session in the evening (which works out better for the folks in the US). If you haven’t ever used Twitch before, it started nearly ten years ago as a platform where people live-streamed themselves playing video games, but nowadays there’s all sorts of creative content on there. It’s one-way – not a video-chat like Zoom or Hangouts – and the only way you interact with the streamer is through text chat. You don’t need an account to watch a stream, but if you sign up, you can subscribe to different channels and get a notification when they go live.

My stream

Here’s what the end result looks like when I stream, but in the photo at the top of this post you can see what it looks like on my end. I have two cameras set up – a webcam sitting on my monitor pointed at my face, and then my iPhone pointed down at what I’m knitting. (I’ve used a small flexible tripod to attach the iPhone to the end of my microphone arm, which works well for getting it in the right position.) I have some LED lights set up on either side of the monitor so you can see what I’m doing. I wear headphones with a microphone so I can talk. I use software called OBS to pull everything together and send the stream to Twitch. Before I start, I set up some “scenes” with different layouts of cameras and images so I can switch to different views. I keep the Twitch site open on the other screen so I can see the chat and respond to any messages that come through.

Things that have worked well: Using the iPhone with the OBS Camera app to show the actual knitting has worked great! It’s got good resolution and I’m able to position it just right thanks to the microphone arm. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many folks have watched the stream and joined in the chat. It’s never more than a few at a time, but it’s early days and I’m sure I’ll build up an audience as I go. Lastly, I’m surprised each time I do this by how quickly the hour passes by. I thought that it would be torturous sitting there talking into the void by myself, but I find that I actually really enjoy it! Maybe I should’ve been a deejay. 😂 Videos on Twitch only last for maximum two weeks, so I’ve been archiving each “episode” over to a playlist on my YouTube channel and I’ve picked up some additional views there.

What hasn’t worked well: Because I’m using the microphone arm to hold the iPhone in position, I haven’t been able to use my fancy microphone for audio. I tried mounting my iPhone on the ring light and pointing it down, but the view wasn’t as good. I feel like the video is more important, so I’ve accepted the trade-off with only having the headphone mic for narration. I’d also love to be able to play some music on the stream, but Twitch Soundtrack is thus far only for Windows 10.  Also, my MacBook Pro is due for an upgrade and doesn’t have a lot of memory, so it struggles sometimes and the fan runs constantly when I’m streaming. I tried sharing my desktop to show off a pattern on Ravelry and it really didn’t like that, so now I restrict my OBS scenes to just webcams and static images. I also suspect our home internet connection upload speed isn’t great, and on a couple of occasions I’ve had the stream die in the middle and then reconnect. Not much I can do about that though…

Sewing with Kris

And because I was having such fun with the knitting streams, I decided to have a go with sewing as well! I was able to reorient everything around to point at my sewing table where I live-streamed myself over two days making the Peppermint Mag Ruffle Sleeve Top. It took me about eight hours all up, which I did in four separate streaming sessions. That included assembling the pattern, doing a Full Bust Adjustment, cutting the pieces, sewing the shirt, making continuous bias binding and attaching it to the neckline (rather than using facings), setting in the sleeves, and hemming the shirt, all while using French seams throughout. The fabric is some leftover quilting cotton, and I think it turned out pretty great!

Peppermint Ruffle Sleeve Top

Cocktails and Pizza

As part of my team’s Christmas festivities, we held a virtual Cocktails and Pizza making competition. I knew that my pizza wasn’t going to win any awards (#teampineapple), so I decided I had to go all-out on the drink. Since there were points for creativity, I felt like I need to go SEASONAL and SPECTACULAR. After some research on the Internet, I settled on the aptly named Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. 🌰🔥

Drink ingredients

I did run into some problems with the recipe though. First hurdle – chestnut syrup. We couldn’t find any! So I had to make my own using this recipe. First step – roast the chestnuts.


I’d never actually done that before. You have to cut an X on the curved side so they A) don’t explode and B) are easier to peel after. Once they popped open, I peeled the skins off and then mixed up the syrup.

Chestnut syrup

There’s a lot of spice in there! After letting it simmer, I strained it and we stored it in a bottle in the fridge.

The next hurdle – eggnog! It turns out that it’s not available in Germany. Undaunted, I decided to make my own using Alton Brown’s recipe. First step was to beat egg yolks with sugar in the mixer…

Egg Yolks

At the same time, I began heating the milk, heavy cream, and nutmeg on the stove.

Milk and cream

Then I had to bring them together by “tempering” – pouring just a tiny bit of the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture while the Snook whisked like crazy to avoid making scrambled eggs. I added more milk until we were past the danger point and then we combined them fully. Then it went into the fridge to chill (along with a bit of brandy). Once that was cold, I whipped up the remaining egg whites with sugar and then we folded that into the cold nog.

Mixing the egg whites

Okay, so with all the prep done it was finally time to make the drink! I started by filling a rocks glass 3/4 of the way full with egg nog. Then I added another shot of brandy for extra kick and a few bar spoons full of the chestnut syrup. After a stir, it was time for the FLAMES. I poured a tiny bit of Stroh 80 (a 160-proof Austrian spiced rum) over the back of the bar spoon to float it on top of the drink, and then I lit it on fire. 🔥 After blowing it out, I garnished with a sprinkle of cinnamon…

Finished drink

I’m happy to say that all my hard work won the Best Cocktail award! Also, it’s very taste and festive, and I will be working my way through the rest of that nog over the next few days. ❤️🏆

As for the pizza… I went very, very quick and easy.

Pizza ingredients

That’s a packet of pre-made German pizza tough. I also bought a big handful of salami pretzels to go on top, along with canned pineapple. I mixed up a fresh sauce from canned tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, oregano, garlic, and olive oil, and I had some leftover grated Emmental cheese. I also couldn’t resist cutting up some of the salami-kabel-trommel to put on top.

Ready for the oven

Here it is ready for the oven! And fifteen minutes later…


Hey, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. 😜 #teampineapple

Craft Project: Beard Mask

Subtitle: Why is your face like that?!

You will recall that earlier this year I trialled several different free mask patterns, and I had some trouble finding one that the Snook deemed comfortable. We ended up just going with the ragmask for him, but it does smush his beard and leave him with unsightly Mask Face whenever he takes it off. Since then, I’ve seen several examples of BEARD MASKS, and now that my sewing machine is here (and we’re going into more lockdown), it seemed like a good time to try one.

Sewing station

I selected this pattern from German designer Christiane Hübner, which seemed simple enough. For fabric, I ordered a pack of paisley samples from Amazon and used those for the outer layer, with some scrap blue fabric for the interior. Feeling confident, I printed out the pattern and whipped up a pair of masks… only to run into disaster.

Bad fit

WTF. It’s standing way up off his nose. I was perplexed. “It’s like your ears are too high or something?” Even with a wire inserted for the nose, it refused to sit properly. It was also too long for his particular beard length, and if he lowered his chin even a little, it pushed the mask up into his eyes again. We pinched and prodded, and it seemed like maybe some additional darts in the cheek area would help?

Okay, back to the drawing board. I started by completely unpicking both masks and ironing the fabric. The easy change was to shorten the pattern by folding it up to take about an inch of length out. Then I recut the pieces for the first mask and made two additional small darts about an inch to either side of the nose. Once it was all back together, I took it down to the client for a fitting.

Mask v2

That’s better! The v2 mask is definitely fitting better around the nose, though there’s some pooching from the darts. It’s also a better length for the beard. Verdict: the v2 mask was deemed Acceptable.

Beard pocket

For the other mask, I decided rather than add darts, I’d try to adjust the existing one for the nose. (The Snook doesn’t like the fabric to sit too close to his mouth.) So I kept the point in the same place but sliced the dart a bit wider…

Adjusted pattern

In that photo you can see where I cut across the top dart, and where I folded it across the middle. Once this one was put together, I brought it down for another fitting…

Mask v3

Hey, that’s pretty good! With a wire in, it fits fairly well around the nose without the extra fabric we pinched out in v2. The dart also makes it stick out quite a bit from his mouth in a sort of beak-like shape, which he likes. Again, verdict is Acceptable.


If you want to make the same pattern, there are a couple caveats I’ll mention. In Step 4, I didn’t quite understand the instructions for attaching the nose tunnel. The descriptions just mention pinning it on, but in the subsequent photo for Step 5, you can clearly see it’s been attached. So I pinned it on and then sewed across the bottom edge. The top edge gets attached when you sew the whole thing together.

I was also slightly confused by the description for Step 9, but once you do it, it makes sense. The trick is to turn the mask inside-out, flatten the darts to either side of the chin, and then sew across. The softens that curve along the chin. You can see my version here, with my sewing line indicated in white.

Sewing across the darts

Two more masks that won’t give him Mask Face! That should see him through the holidays… 😷

Cycling in Munich

I’ve always loved riding a bicycle, ever since I was a kid, but there were several years after university where I didn’t regularly ride. Mostly it’s because I lived in big cities (London and then Sydney) that aren’t super conducive to cycling. I eventually got a bike in Sydney and even commuted for a while, but honestly, it never felt very fun or safe there. In fact, at times the attitude towards cyclists felt downright hostile. As the Wikipedia page for “Cycling in Sydney” states,

Cycling in Australia has, until recently, been a minority interest sport, and hostility on the road is also common. One Danish cyclist, Thomas Andersen, who had cycled around the world for four years, singled out Sydney in 2014 as being the worst city he had visited for cyclists.

Not only are Australian drivers hostile, but separated cycleways are few and far between. Sydney is also pretty hilly, and in the summer even a short ride will get you sweaty. There is also a mandatory helmet law, which puts off a lot of casual riders. As a result, the percentage of trips in Sydney that are made by bicycle is less than 2%.

Guess what? In Munich it’s closer to 20%.

Cycling in Munich

In Munich, lots of people ride bikes. I’ve seen old people, business people, parents towing kids and dogs in trailers, delivery people, all sorts. Sometimes they’re in lycra and helmets kitted out like serious athletes, but most of the time they’re just normal folks going about their day. (This photo and others are screengrabs from a video I filmed of a ride through Munich today.)

Rodd's bike

We sold our bikes in Sydney before we left, mostly because we weren’t sure whether we’d have appropriate storage for them in our Munich apartment. Once we were settled here, I started looking on FB Marketplace and Ebay for bikes. Around the same time, we had a presentation at work from the folks at Swapfiets. This is a Dutch company that offers fixed price rental for bikes, and they take care of all the maintenance for you. We decided to give it a try, reasoning that we could always cancel if we decided cycling here wasn’t going to work. Swapfiets offer a few different types of bikes in Munich, including a cruiser-style (with no gears) and a luxury “e-bike” (with an electric motor). We went with the middle option – 7-speed hub gear commuter bikes with dynamo-powered front and back lights. All of their bikes have a distinctive blue front tire as well as both a chain and tire lock for security. (While this is an unsolicited endorsement, if you want to sign up and use my referral code “KRISTINE77165” we’ll both get a a €7.50 discount!)

I’ve been experimenting with recording some of my rides. I don’t have a GoPro or anything; I’m just using my iPhone with a handlebar mount that I bought. This was a ride I filmed last week going around the Theriesenwiese and Bavaria Park. It’s bumpy and rough, but you get the idea. (I’ve sped it up; I’m not a very fast rider!) The remarkable thing is that from our house – which again, is really close to the city center – you can ride quite a while without ever having to go on a main road. You can just as easily get to Westpark, which is a massive park with beer gardens, playing fields, and picnic spots.

However, sometimes you want to ride into more trafficked areas. I rode into the city today to visit a special bakery and pick up some Christmas treats. It was about 3.5km (2 miles) each way. I filmed my ride, and I’ve grabbed a few screenshots to show you some of the cycling infrastructure I encountered. (Apologies for the blur!)

Bike ramp

Our neighbourhood is directly next to the Theriesenwiese, the massive open showgrounds where the Oktoberfest happens each year. There’s a big, heavily trafficked ring road around it full of cars, but across the middle there are paved areas that you can ride across. To get to it, rather than crossing the road I can go down a ramp with stairs and zip through a tunnel straight on the Wiese. Much faster and safer! If you watch that little video above, you can see me go down the ramp and across the Wiese…


On the other side of the Wiese, there are some quiet residential side streets. This one is labelled “Fahrradstraße” (bicycle street), which means motor vehicles are limited to 30 km/h (19 mph) and cyclists are allowed to use the full width of the road.


Most of the main roads in Munich have separated cycleways alongside them. This is the one that runs along Lindwurmstraße all the way up to Sendlinger Tor. In most cases there’s one on each side of the road, so you ride in the direction of traffic. As you can see, while the cycleway is completely separated from the traffic, there’s no real barrier between the pedestrian area. It’s literally just, like, a difference in the paving. Most pedestrians seem quite conscientious of cyclists though, and it’s become quite natural to me when walking to look out for bikes. The cycleways vary in width, and sometimes there’s not a lot of room for overtaking so faster riders will occasionally swing onto the pedestrian part to pass. I am not a fast rider, and I am content to pootle along in the cycleway watching for pedestrians and knowing I’m not going to get flattened by a truck.

Of course, there are still places where you have to cross main roads. At Sendlinger Tor there is a major intersection where Lindwurmstraße runs into Sonnenstraße, and it’s a very busy wide street with the added complication of Strassenbahn (tram) tracks. There the separated cycleway turns into a dedicated bicycle lane on the road, complete with its own traffic light! I was a little confused about how to turn left the first time I hit this intersection until I realised they use the same trick as Melbourne – hook turns! As a cyclist, you ride straight across the road and there is a dedicated spot for you to turn to the left and wait for the signal to continue onwards.

Non-separated cycleway

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There is a small bit – only about 100m – along Sonnenstraße where there is construction blocking the bike path, so you’re forced to ride alongside traffic. Thankfully, as soon as you get around the construction there is a ramp that takes you back up onto the separated cycleway.

Cafe Kreuzkamm

Oh hey, look, I made it to the bakery!

Waiting at a light

The return trip on the way home is much the same, albeit on the other side of the road. I’m pleased to see that for the most part, German cyclists follow the rules of the road and don’t run red lights and such. A few do, but not nearly as bad as I’ve seen back in Australia.

For some reason, the first part of the return cycleway on Lindwurmstraße is on the road. Presumably it’s because there is a park on the right, and the footpath isn’t wide enough? At any rate, there’s only a short stretch before the cycleway separates again. And then it’s an easy ride back to the Theriesenwiese.


One last thing – a few months back, the city turned part of the Wiese into a “Fahrrad-Übungsplatz” (bicycle practice area). They painted lines and lanes and cars and traffic lights on some of the concrete areas, and anyone can go and use them to practice their cycling skills. How cute is that?

So that’s cycling in Munich. It’s amazing what a difference some infrastructure makes! More people cycle, which makes more pedestrians and drivers aware, which makes it safer, which means more people cycle! It does crack me up though how negative the  “cycling in Munich” Wikipedia page sounds. I don’t think the people who wrote it understand how good they have it! As I said to the Snook, unless we move to Copenhagen, this is probably the best it’s ever gonna get for us in terms of cycling. That said, it’s supposed to snow tomorrow… so I guess we’ll see how that affects things! 🚴‍♂️❄️