Let’s face it. Most of the time, office parties blow. You stand around, the CEO or some bigwig who you never see gets up and makes a speech. People always look like they have that nervous “the HR Gestapo could be watching me” smile on. Everyone stands around in groups talking to the same people they talk to every other day of the year, people drink and complain about the company, and everyone wakes up the next day trying to find out who won the “Most Embarressing Drunken Moment of the Christmas Party” award.
Not knowing if I would see another Dordrecht office party, I brought my camera to this one and did something really fun. I bounced around from clique to clique looking for anyone I knew. I then, without saying anything, put my arm around them, stuck out my arm, and took a self-portrait with my digital camera. Sometimes I even stayed to talk for a few minutes before finding my next victim. It was one of the best office parties I’d been to. I have the pictures to prove it.
The second nice thing that happened is that my department (Marketing) had their own departmental Christmas dinner that very same night. We went straight from the office party by car to a town called Breda, which is about half an hour to the south. In Breda we all piled into “De Culinaire Affaire”, which is a cute little house with a massive dining room table that is run by a chef. The deal is, you go in with a big group of people, you get divided up into random teams, every team gets assigned some dish or component of the meal they are to make, everyone cooks, and everyone eats.
Since I can’t cook anything other than the one lemon chicken dish my mom taught me, I was naturally a bit nervous about the whole affair. Being nominated to make the salad by my oh-so-funny colleagues who know about my aversion to vegetables didn’t help matters. I re-nominated myself to cook the chocolate cake. My partner was Rob Wander, who I had known, but had never seen in action in the kitchen.
Well, the first problem was that the instructions were all in Dutch. Luckily Rob had that covered. I did my best to help gather the ingredients (“What the hell is a ‘decalitre’?” “What’s eirenrooide in English!”). I did successfully manage putting together a ‘bain marie’ to melt the chocolate. I followed that up by spending twenty minutes cutting two bars of chocolate into little chocolate chips with a knife. Eating at least a third in the process.
Now, I am certainly no expert, but I have to say that from a layman’s perspective, Rob Wander can COOK. That boy had it DOWN. He was mixing and measuring, knew how to zero out the electronic scale to account for the plastic bowl, knew the proper wisking technique. In the words of Ali G, I was well impressed.
To make a long story short, we had a fantastic meal, which we all felt some partial responsibility for making. It was an appetizer of salad with fried orange slices, an entree of tapas including spicy chicken, mince pastries, shrimp, and spicy potatos, and then it was our turn to provide the chocolate cake.
Now, I want to start out by saying that it wasn’t my fault. I did everything I was instructed to do. I took out the egg yolks, wisked, boiled the milk, everything as I had been instructed. I poured the egg into the boiling milk while wisking furiously to avoid letting the egg cook in the milk. The chef told me to turn off the flame and let it sit. SHE NEVER TOLD ME I HAD TO PUT IT IN A DIFFERENT POT TO COOL OFF.
End result: little bits of cooked egg floating in the vanilla cream sauce and the chef frantically making a replacement in the kitchen while everyone waited for dessert.
Figures. It had to be my dish that screwed up.
The chef’s helper Ina consoled me by telling me that the vanilla sauce was actually the hardest thing to make the entire evening. So I felt a little better.
Anyway, the cake was delicious. Rich and chocolaty, a bit dry and more cake-like at the rim, and warm and gooey in the middle. Add some whipped cream and chef-made vanilla sauce, and it was, how-you-say, magnifique.
It ended up being the best departmental Christmas dinner I had ever had and I would like to thank all my colleagues for making me such a great dinner (and apologize for keeping you waiting that extra five minutes while the chef made the sauce).
Merry Christmas (in a completely atheist and non-religious but full of the milk of human kindness kind of way).