The chocolate-less Easter

Australians are the biggest consumers of chocolate at Easter. I read that somewhere (in an article on taste.com.au that is no longer there). Even if it´s not 100% true, Australians have to be in a top 5 consumers of chocolate at Easter. We´re nuts about the Easter Bunny and egg hunts and all sizes of eggs from the little ones to the super-dooper huge ones. Then there are bunnies, bilbys and mugs with eggs inside them. There are little chocolate chickens and there are chocolate carrots (for the Easter Bunny who still wants his carrot).

So here I am in Colombia on the other side of the world to the Easter chocolate frenzy. There is not a chocolate egg in sight. Not even a little marshmallow chicken. And there is definitely no Easter Bunny. When I learned that the Tooth Fairy here is called El Raton Perez, I asked about El Conejo de Pascua and was met with furrowed brows of confusion. Nope, here is it all about Jesus on the cross.

I kind of expected a low dosage of chocolate and Easter eggs as when I was in Latin America in 2004 there weren´t any of my traditional bunnies and eggs. However this article says Brazil has the second highest consumption in the world. When I was in Brazil for Easter 2004 I consoled my Easter egg fix with the Brazilian style of Easter egg. I can attest to the fact they are clear plastic egg shapes with normal chocolates and truffles inside hung from the ceiling rather than stacked on shelves.

I spent Easter 2011 in the United States and I was surprised by the lack of Easter eggs in the stores. Very surprised.

Chocolate, peanut, sultana and coconut filled and decorate eggs
These are the chocolate, peanut, sultana and coconut filled eggs D and I made and decorated

I´m keen to introduce my Aussie Easter traditions to my Colombian family and since having my Australian family ship an Easter Care Package faces the problems of unreliable (if existent) postal service and extreme (ie melting point) heat, I need to get DIY on the Easter Egg front.

I´ve thought about making my own chocolates. Not too hard right? Well it helps when you have the plastic moulds to make them in and my favourite baking supply store doesn´t stock an egg shaped mould.

The other day I read a tutorial for dyed eggshells filled with chocolate, fruit and nuts on Ali Does It Herself. A bit of traditional egg dying and decorating with the inside goodness of a solid chocolate egg. It was laborious but not too hard. Although Ali didn’t mention that piping the chocolate filling from a plastic ziplock requires hands of steel, or at the very least, oven mitts.  But, all the effort and burnt palms are worth it. Easter is saved. There is chocolate!

It´s a bit of a tangent to this post on Colombia´s lack of Easter eggs, but I came across an interesting article about where the ingredients come from to make them and it got me thinking. Imagine that your chocolate-a-day habit pays the daily wage of a cocoa worker and that the even more expensive Easter eggs and bunnies are at least two day´s wages. For the cocoa workers who barely earn enough to feed their families and have a roof for shelter, a chocolate bar is a complete luxury. Who has ever been haunted by the poverty of Charlie Bucket´s family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and their sacrifices to buy Charlie a chocolate bar in hopes of a golden ticket? That poverty is the reality of cocoa workers in many places in the world (Oompa-Loompas have better work conditions and can eat all the cacao beans they like). From where I live, I can see that this type of poverty is the case for many Colombians too.

If you celebrate Easter, whether for religious or chocolate reasons, I wish you a very Happy Easter! Maybe like in other holidays celebrated throughout the year, we can also think about those who are less fortunate and perhaps donate the value of an Easter egg to a worthy cause.

A couple of things happened while I was away

And I’m not referring to any of the local and family tidbits my mum shared with me while I was on the road.

Window signs
There's not really room for three of these LCD signs in this Ascot Vale shopfront.

There are two things I saw while in America that made me think to myself “Look at that. I’m glad we don’t have that in Australia!” It wasn’t banking related, or anything nearly as important as healthcare. But they were:

  1. Family stickers on cars that include all family members, pets and the kitchen sink
  2. Flashing LCD signs in store windows saying “Open”

Every time I saw one of these things I would have a slight inwards gloat that we wouldn’t be that cheesy back home.

So you can imagine my surprise, my disgust and my feeling of foolishness when those two things haven’t just taken America by storm but Australia too.

I think the first time I saw a car back home with a family sticker emblazoned on it, I actually said “Nooo” aloud in disbelief. I struggle comprehend why people feel the need to display their whole family, cartoon style, on their vehicles. I guess we’ve moved beyond “Baby on Board” signs and bumper stickers telling people to back off if they can read it. Do we blame Facebook for this? Are people wanting to extend beyond their online social network and instead post about themselves and their family in a moving billboard style? I’m not sure what to think, I can only shake my head.

I justified the flashing LCD open signs in the US when I realised that this would be helpful for people during a snowstorm. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder leaving a light in the window to help Pa find his way home in a blizzard in the Little House on the Prairie books. However that logic does not apply to Australia where there are really only a handful or two of towns above the snowline. Here these signs are just tacky attention grabbers from DIY marketers.

To remind myself that yes, I am really back in Australia, I have indulged in sausage rolls, meat pies, pavlovas, Vegemite and regularly catch the tram.

I’m proud to be an …

American, is how the song goes. (Note: you might want to listen to the song on YouTube while you read this entry)

After hearing it for the first time during my ranch stay at Bar 10 in Arizona, my guess is that it is the American equivalent of “I am Australian”, a song to make you feel patriotic pride and give you goosebumps when you hear it, especially when on foreign soil.

The song came up during what the cowboys and cowgirls called the ‘program’, which is a lame description of an amateur show to give visitors a taste of the West. I cringed my way through it, feeling intense embarrassment for the staff who each had to wheel out a talent to entertain the 46 Americans and me who were stopping by for the night on the way to raft the Grand Canyon.

We were asked to stand as a large star spangled flag was carried out and held in reverence in front of us. Then people started to take off their hats and put their hands on their hearts as a recording of the song was played.

Now I’m not really sure of patriotic etiquette. I didn’t know whether I should also doff my hat out of respect, even though I am not American and they weren’t playing the national anthem, for which all the standing and heart-holding would be more appropriate. Thankfully I was right up the back so no one would have noticed that I left my cap perched on my head as I took in the lyrics.

Artist: Lee Greenwood
Song: Proud To Be An American

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I’d worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.

I’d thank my lucky stars,
to be livin’ here today.
‘ Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.

And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

From the lakes of Minnesota,
to the hills of Tennessee.
Across the plains of Texas,
From sea to shining sea.

From Detroit down to Houston,
and New York to L.A.
Well there’s pride in every American heart,
and its time we stand and say.

That I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

And I’m proud to be and American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

Reasons why American money is stupid

Now that I’m in the land of the greenback, I am discovering that whilst it may be the currency that dominates the world, it lags far behind in terms of user-friendliness and technology.

Here are some reasons to support my argument that American money is stupid.

US money
All very same same but different with the greenback denominations.

1. It is all the same colour

Every single note is a greeny, yellowy beige. When you open your purse up, you have to inspect each note carefully before handing it over.

2. The notes are all the same size
Or virtually and they don’t recognise mere millimetres here, so we’ll just say that they are the same size. Again, it means that you need to inspect each note when deciding what to pull out of your purse.

3. Pennies still exist
In America at least, the one cent coin is essentially redundant. If you are going to have a useful coin, it is the quarter. That’s what parking meters and laundromats all desire. On some rare occasions you may receive a $1 coin, which parking meters also like, but that hardly ever occurs.

4. Checks!
If the movie Catch Me If You Can didn’t highlight how fraudulent the world of cheques is, then I don’t know what would. They love those bits of paper with amounts written in full and displaying your autograph. Currently Chase Bank are advertising a phone app that takes photos of your checks and then deposits them automatically in your account. I find this ridiculous. If you’re going to embrace mobile technology, just get with the sometime-ago technology of online banking and bpay! In Australia, no landlord accepts cheques, hell, hardly anyone accepts cheques nowadays. Here, you have to furnish your landlord with a cheque. There’s no alternatives for cash or electronic banking. Totally weird.

$500
Withdrawing $500 from the ATM gives you 25 notes. I’d say that is akin to losing the game of Uno.

5. The ATMs only dispense $20 notes

If you withdraw the usual ATM maximum of $500, it spits out twenty five $20 notes. TWENTY FIVE! Some ATMs allow you to a) withdraw more and b) give you $50 notes, but that is not the norm.

So I guess you could say that I’m finding these monetary issues frustrating. I just don’t get it. But on the bright side, the cash and cheque deposit facility on the ATMs here is great. You just feed them in like a carpark pay station and it automatically deposits.

I never thought I’d miss our colourful Aussie money or banking processes, but we really have a great system.

Colourful Australian money
Ah, the colourful (and different sized) monetary notes of Australia.