Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2014

With Thanksgiving behind us, and the tryptophan coma starting to dissipate, it’s time to think of the crunchy, sweet, delectable items we all associate with the next holiday.

IMG_2238This year exigent circumstances will require a new, more focused approach to my holiday baking, but I’m always on the lookout for some new recipes that add a new twist along with the old favorites.  This year, making something with coconut and chocolate sounds good.  I found this recipe on an internet cooking website and am going to give it a shot:

Chocolate-Drizzled Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients:  1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 4 large egg whites, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, 7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (about 2 2/3 cups), 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Fill a large saucepan with 2 inches of water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low so the water is just simmering. Whisk sugar, egg whites, honey, vanilla, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until sugar has dissolved and the mixture looks thicker, paler, and is hot to the touch, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove bowl from the heat and stir in the coconut and flour. Cover and refrigerate the dough overnight.

Heat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir the dough and drop level tablespoons onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart then bake on the middle rack. Bake until cookies are light golden brown around the edges and set in the centers, rotating the sheet halfway through, about 12 to 15 minutes total. Place the pan on a wire rack and let the cookies sit for 1 minute. Transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely. Using a cooled baking sheet and the same sheet of parchment, repeat with the remaining dough. Set aside the parchment to use for drizzling the chocolate over the cooled cookies.

Place the cooled cookies on the reserved parchment sheet (they can be touching). Melt the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave.) Dip a fork into the chocolate and drizzle it over the macaroons in a zigzag pattern. Let the cookies sit at room temperature until the chocolate has set, about 30 minutes. Store the macaroons in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2013

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2012

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2011

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2010

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2009

When Black Friday Comes

Black Friday can bite me.

I’m tired of hearing about it, tired of the spectacle of grown people embarrassing themselves and acting like idiots to try to get the latest hot toy or specially priced flat-screen TV that will only be available to the first 50 customers, and tired of the talking heads talking, talking, talking about how important Black Friday is to the health of our economy and its retail sector.

Go out and buy, buy, buy!  Curse the lack of parking!  Groan when you see the length of the check-out line!  Feel the surge of anger when some jerk cuts in front of you or blocks the aisle or doesn’t watch their bratty kid who is knocking items off the shelves!

So today you won’t find me at the shopping malls.  When I think of Black Friday, I think of the classic tune from Steely Dan’s Katy Lied, performed live below in 2006.  My favorite lyrics from the song have a certain resonance on Black Friday, the dreaded shopping day:

When Black Friday comes
I’m gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it ’til
I satisfy my soul
Gonna let the world pass by me
The Archbishop’s gonna sanctify me
And if he don’t come across
I’m gonna let it roll

About The Wishbone . . . .

At countless Thanksgiving dinner tables today two people will be designated to grasp the two ends of the wishbone, think of a wish, and pull — and whoever ends up with the bigger part of the bone is supposed to get their wish.

Why do we do this?

It’s an ancient practice, one that dates back to long before the first Thanksgiving near Plymouth Rock.  It goes all the way back to the pre-Roman Etruscan civilization, which used chickens to tell the future — and started the practice of focusing on the furcula, which is the proper name for the wishbone.  The Etruscans, gentle souls that they were, stroked the dried wishbone as they made their wishes for the future.

Leave it to the Romans, and their competitive ways, to decide that the Etruscans were right to focus on the furcula, but were wrong in how they treated it — and that the best way to get a wish granted was to break the wishbone in a contest that ensured there was a winner and a loser.  And as the Romans conquered the world, their bone-breaking tradition was borrowed by other cultures, including the inhabitants of the remote island outpost of the empire, who — centuries later — shipped it across the Atlantic to the New World.

Much as we might admire the Etruscans and their views on avian divination, if you’re offered the wishbone today, I suggest taking a firm grip and yanking for all you’re worth.

Thinking Of Thanksgiving Traditions

For many of us, Thanksgiving is rich with family traditions.  Whether it is food, decorations, or the timing of the big meal, the traditions connect us to earlier times and people who are no longer with us but whose spirits live on, undiminished, in our memories.  The traditions are a big part of why, for many people, Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday.

Recently Mom and the five Webner kids had dinner and reminisced about Thanksgivings of days gone by and some of the traditions that prevailed during our childhoods.

Mom putting little wax candles of pilgrims and turkeys at every place setting at the Thanksgiving table.  A large cardboard representation of a big-breasted tom turkey with deep red wattles on the front door to greet our guests.  Native American headdresses made at school from construction paper, each ersatz feather a different bright color, and from the younger kids drawings of turkeys made from the outlines of their hands.  A cornucopia centerpiece surrounded by riotously colored, warty gourds.

My father, as much of a turkey fiend as the Dad in A Christmas Story, carefully carving the bird and happily munching on pieces as he went along.  Uncle Tony lecturing us that we were really missing something by not eating the heart and liver.  A heartfelt prayer for the year’s blessings and the food we were about to enjoy.  Gramma Webner announcing the turkey was too dry.

A tube of cranberry dressing, still bearing the corrugated impressions of the can from whence it came, lying on its side on a plate and sliced to form perfect wine-colored circles.  A huge bowl of Mom’s hand-mashed potatoes, doused liberally with her thick, homemade gravy.  A mincemeat pie.  Football throws outside on a crisp autumn afternoon to help stimulate the appetite for the feast to come, and sprawling on the couch watching football on TV, groaning at the amount of food consumed but still somehow finding room for a late-night turkey sandwich and a final piece of pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Woody Week

Ohio State has viewed Michigan as its great opponent for more than a century, but the modern rivalry really took its shape when Wayne Woodrow Hayes became the head football coach at Ohio State in 1951.  It was Woody Hayes who schemed all year for the game against That Team Up North, Woody Hayes who purportedly pushed his car back to Ohio rather than buying a tank of gas in Michigan, Woody Hayes who attempted a two-point conversion rather than an extra point in a beat-down of the Wolverines and, when asked why he went for two, responded “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

That’s why, for members of Buckeye Nation who are my generation or older, Michigan Week really is Woody Week.  From the Ohio State side, Coach Hayes is the inescapable colossus who helped to define what the ultimate rivalry in sports was really all about.  You can’t help but think about him as The Game draws near.

But there is more to the story than that.  Woody Hayes was always a complex figure — professorial and intellectual, a student of military history who was likely to quote Emerson, yet possessed of a volcanic temper that propelled him into embarrassing sideline outbursts, including the furious punch that cost him his job.  A man who was the iconic face of Ohio State football but didn’t insist on large contracts and happily lived in the same tidy Upper Arlington house for years, who was gracious to the timid students who knocked on the door of his office and asked if the Coach might sign a football for their father or uncle, who mentored his players and hectored them into getting their degrees and pursuing post-football careers as doctors, politicians, and lawyers.  Living in Columbus, you inevitably encounter people who were touched by the generosity and decency of Woody Hayes, whether it involved an unpublicized hospital visit to a sick child or an encouraging word to a struggling young person.

Over the years, my perception of Coach Hayes changed, and I think I’m not alone in that.  For me he began as a too-conservative football coach whose temper-fueled antics often made Ohio State the butt of jokes, then became the modern Greek dramatic hero whose passion led inexorably to his downfall.  Now, as the stories of what he did are told and retold, he has become a venerated figure whose failings are forgiven, if not forgotten, because his strength of character and good deeds vastly outweighed them.

For those of us who have made mistakes in our lives — a population that includes me and most of the billions of people on planet Earth — the story of Woody Hayes is a warming and ultimately encouraging human story of the possibility of redemption and how good deeds can live on as blunders fade away.  It’s a good story to remember each year during Michigan Week.

Eroding Trust On Both Sides Now

There was rioting in Ferguson, Missouri last night after a prosecuting attorney announced that a grand jury had declined to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

The prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, said that the racially mixed grand jury had met on more than two dozen occasions over three months to hear the testimony of more than 60 witnesses.  He said the members of the grand jury were the only people to have heard all of the evidence and to have weighed the credibility of every witness, and added that they took their job seriously and “poured their hearts and soul into this process.” 

Shortly after the verdict was announced the police officer’s grand jury testimony was released.  According to the Associated Press report, Wilson said he had seen Brown walking with a handful of cigars, which he connected to an earlier report of a convenience store robbery.  Wilson testified to an escalating confrontation in which Brown punched Wilson while Wilson sat in his patrol car, Wilson drew his gun, the two struggled, Brown ran away, Wilson gave chase, Brown turned to face the policeman, and ultimately Wilson fired the fatal shots.

Rioting began almost immediately after the no-indictment decision was announced, with crowds setting fire to vehicles and buildings and looting local businesses.  Police fired tear gas and made numerous arrests.  President Obama quite properly appealed for calm and noted that the United States is a nation of laws and the grand jury was the institution charged with deciding whether the officer should be charged with a state-law crime.

Of course, both the prosecutor and the President are right:  only the members of the grand jury heard all of the evidence and its decision must inevitably be accepted.  Similarly, no rational person doubts that serving as a police officer is a difficult, dangerous job that requires split-second decision-making in moments of great stress.  Still, we can fairly question why so many deadly police shootings happen in our country — in Cleveland, for example, on this past Saturday afternoon, a rookie police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old African-American boy who was holding a pellet gun — and whether officers are too quick to use deadly force.  In too many of our communities, there seems to be an us versus them mentality on both sides of the police-civilian divide that makes these fatal confrontations much, much too likely to occur.

The Rapper Defense

Should the standards of what constitutes an actionable threat of physical violence be changed in the era of the internet and social media?  Next week the Supreme Court will consider that question, which probes the tender intersection of the First Amendment, criminal law, and society’s interest in protecting people from impending harm.

For years the prevailing standard has been that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected free speech and can be punished under the criminal law.  The issue raised by the Supreme Court case is whether prosecutors should be required to prove that the speaker had a “subjective intent” to threaten, as opposed to showing that an objective person would consider the statements to be threatening.  A requirement of subjective intent obviously would be harder to prove.

In the Supreme Court case, the defendant created Facebook posts about his estranged wife, writing about “a thousand ways to kill you” and asking whether the protection from abuse order she received was “thick enough to stop a bullet.”  His lawyers contend that the statements are simply “therapeutic efforts to address traumatic events” and references to the violent, misogynistic imagery of the defendant’s favorite rappers.  The defendant also argues that other actions like the placement of an emoticon — a face with its tongue sticking out, purportedly to indicate “jest” — must be considered in assessing whether the speaker truly intends menacing behavior or is just blowing off steam.

I’m a big supporter of free speech, and exercises in line-drawing are always difficult, but I don’t see any need to revisit long-time legal standards just because the internet has been developed.  Domestic abuse is a huge problem, and we need to protect the abused.  If prosecutors are required to prove “subjective intent,” and the placement of emoticons or the couching of unambiguous threats of violence in the context of rap lyrics become viable defenses, the ability to protect the abused will be diminished.  I don’t know of any real “therapy” that encourages disturbed people to make specific threats of violence, and I don’t buy the argument that standards of lawful behavior should be reduced simply because some anonymous people treat the internet as a kind of free-for-all zone.

Standards exist for a reason, and we shouldn’t be in a hurry to lower them.  It’s not unfair to hold people whose behavior already has given rise to legitimate concern — like the defendant in the Supreme Court case who was the subject of a protection from abuse order — accountable for specific violent statements, on social media or otherwise.