Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018 (II)

Every would-be cookie baker needs a taster — that person who will sample your fare and tell you whether the batch is brilliant . . . or a bust.  I’m blessed to have the greatest taster of all under our roof, so when Kish sent along some holiday cookie recipes from the New York Times I had to pick one to try this year.  I like coconut, so this was my choice.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread

merlin_146903328_7ae9fcfc-36b5-47f1-b4da-ae60eb1a466d-articlelargeIngredients:  2 1/4 sticks cold salted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces; 1/2 cup granulated sugar; 1/4 cup light brown sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour; 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (plus more for rolling); 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 large egg, well beaten; sanding sugar

Using an electric mixer and medium bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Use a spatula to scrape down sides of bowl, then put mixer on low speed and slowly add flour, followed by 1/2 cup coconut and beat until blended.

Divide dough in half and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap.  Sprinkle each piece of dough with half of the cinnamon, then fold plastic over to cover dough and use your hands to form dough into a log shape about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.  Chill logs in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 hours, until they are firm.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Brush outside of logs with egg wash, then roll logs in unsweetened coconut.  Slice each log into 1/4-inch rounds.  Dip each round on one side into sanding sugar and arrange on backing sheet, sugar side up, 1 inch apart.  Bake cookies 10-12 minutes, until edges are just beginning to brown.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018

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A Little Christmas Goes A Long Way

I like Christmas.  I really do.  But when you’re at a conference, a little Christmas goes a long way.

Thursday night I found myself at a reception in the obligatory open atrium space at one of those colossal hotel-conference complexes.  I was having a perfectly pleasant time, chatting with other attendees, when suddenly there was a blast of music, strobe lights, and fog machine effects, and some kind of Christmas-themed program starting playing, at bellowing volume, over the sound system.  I think it may have been called “A Christmas Wish,” or something along those lines, and it seemed to involve a boy beseeching his Grinch-like grandfather to do something for the holidays.  People who love The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies no doubt would have appreciated its saccharine sappiness.  Me?  I found the kid’s voice incredibly annoying as I was trying to carry on a conversation, and I sympathized with the beleaguered granddad who had to put up with the irritating rugrat.

Eventually the program ended, and everyone at the reception breathed a sigh of relief at the very welcome silence.  Before we knew it, however, the program started again, and we realized with grim despair that it apparently was going to be broadcast every half hour.  I wasn’t the only attendee who then decided that it was time to exit the reception and get as far away from the imploring kid’s voice as possible.

Lights, trees, other festive decorations, and a little Christmas music in the background are just fine.  But forced exposure to some maudlin tale that is supposed to illustrate “the meaning of Christmas” is where I draw the line.

Conference Room Music

Yesterday I was at a conference at one of those ginormous conference centers you find across America.  That means that, during breaks and when waiting for the meetings to start, I’ve been exposed to conference room music.

wasgn_meetings_breakout01There’s a spectrum of music played in public places in America.  At one end of the spectrum — and unfortunately, very rare in my experience — are actual, recognizable songs, whether it’s classical pieces, or rock music performed by the artists who made the songs a hit, or jazz from John Coltrane or Dave Brubeck.  As you move away from that end of the spectrum, generic elements are introduced — for example, by having a song that you know covered by some unknown band whose rendition sucks the life out of the tune and renders it inert, so that it takes a while before you recognize what you’re hearing as a dim, distant version of Foreigner’s Hot Blooded.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is elevator music and telephone hold music — music that is specifically calculated to do nothing except provide soft and low background noise while you are unfortunately waiting to move on to your day.  Conference room music is a notch up from elevator music.  It’s never a recognizable song from a recognizable artist, because the music may have to cut off at any minute when the meeting starts, and they don’t want the meeting participants to be disappointed that they didn’t get to hear the guitar solo on Pink Floyd’s Mother.  So it’s inevitably some random piece, usually jazzy in nature with keyboard and horns, but more upbeat than elevator or hold music.  It’s designed to keep you awake and alert while you sip your generic coffee and glance around at the generic conference room fixtures and decorations, but leave no lasting impression whatsoever.

No one leaves a conference room humming a few bars of conference room music or asking the concierge what was playing before the meetings started.  You’ve utterly forgotten the music the instant the meeting begins, just like you immediately and irretrievably forget the wisps of the dream you were having when you wake up in the morning.

When you think about it, there’s some talent involved in being able to create music that is so consciously bland.  You have to wonder:  do musicians deliberately set out to write conference room music, and do they think with satisfaction that their creation will be the perfect complement to the metal coffee urn, the spread of breakfast pastries, and the always uncomfortable conference room chairs?

Hound, Or Holiday?

As the end of the year approaches, some American workers are looking at the calendar and realizing that they once again haven’t used all of their allotted vacation time, and won’t be able to do so before another New Year’s Day rolls around.

1523383408931It’s a surprisingly common situation.  Polls and estimates indicate that U.S. workers are not taking as much as half of their permitted paid vacation days each year — benefits that are worth about $62 billion.  One study concluded that only 23 percent of employees used all of their permitted vacation time.  Another 23 percent used less than one-quarter of their allowed time off, 19 percent used between one-quarter and one-half of their vacation time, 16 percent used between one-half and three-quarters of their holiday allotment, and 9 percent took no vacation time at all.

Why aren’t people taking the time off that they’ve earned?  Believe it or not, one of the more common stated reasons for forgoing vacations is that it’s hard to arrange for pet care.  Other workers confess that they’re just worried about their jobs — whether it’s purported concern that nobody else can take care of their responsibilities while they are gone or fear that leaving might put their job in peril somehow.  In my experience, still others simply have the martyr complex, and like to portray to their co-workers and supervisors that although they in fact would prefer to take a vacation, they’re just too busy and important to actually do so.  (Here’s a tip for the martyrs out there:  no one believes you when you say that, and it’s irritating, besides.)

I long ago decided that vacations are important — in fact, as important as anything else about your job.  I think it’s crucial to take regular holidays to avoid job burnout and to remain fresh and engaged with your workplace responsibilities.  My practice is to always have a vacation somewhere on the upcoming calendar so there is something to look forward to, and as soon as I return from one I try to get the next one scheduled.  Otherwise, six months down the road you realize that you really could use some time off but your upcoming calendar is filled and there are no openings until months in the future — by which time you’re approaching a year since your last vacation.  That’s a pretty miserable way to live your life.

And by the way, there are lots of good facilities out there to take care of your pets, so you can’t use that as an excuse.  In fact, if you’ve gone months without taking a vacation, your pooch probably senses your mounting stress level and is finding you pretty hard to be around, anyhow.  A stay at the Pet Palace might be a holiday for Fido, too.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018

The calendar — and, unfortunately, the too-early winter weather — confirm that it is indeed December.  In fact, it’s December 5.  December 5!!  That means it’s high time to start collecting the Christmas cookie recipes that I’ll be baking this year.

If you like Christmas cookie recipes, the internet is truly a mixed blessing.  It’s great in that there are countless cookie recipes that can be called up by running a simple Google search for “Christmas cookie recipes,” which will give you awesome variety and concoctions that you’ve never even thought were possible.  It’s bad, however, because at many websites Christmas cookie recipes are classic clickbait, and you need to click through multiple pages to finally get to the recipes.  If you hate the constant clicking, as I do, because you believe the website is treating you like a pawn in an advertising game whose time is of no value, I recommend the iambaker.net website, which allows you to get directly to the recipes like the one below.

Peppermint Meltaway Cookies

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Ingredients:  For the cookies — 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature; 3/4 cup cornstarch; 3/4 cup confectioners sugar; 1 tsp. McCormick pure peppermint extract; 1 cup all-purpose flour 
For the glaze — 2 cups confectioners sugar divided; 6 -8 teaspoons whole milk divided; 1/4 -1 teaspoon of McCormick pure peppermint extract; McCormick green food color optional
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix the butter and cornstarch until well combined and lighter in color, then turn the mixer off and add in confectioners sugar.  With the mixer on low, add the peppermint extract and mix until ingredients are fully incorporated.  Turn mixer off again and add flour, then with the mixer on low to medium-low, mix until the dough comes together and pulls away from sides of the bowl.

Using a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop or a tablespoon measuring spoon, remove about a tablespoon of dough. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet at least 2 inches apart. Once the cookie sheet is full, gently roll each scoop of dough between your hands until it is a smooth ball.  Bake 9 minutes at 350 degrees.  Right out of the oven take a glass with a flat bottom (that is smaller than the cookie) and gently press into the cookie.  Allow cookies to cool for about 5 minutes and then move to a cooling rack. Make sure cookies are completely cool before adding glaze.

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Kudos To A Coach

I can’t say that I was shocked by Urban Meyer’s announcement today that he is retiring as the head football coach at The Ohio State University.  There have been too many news stories — and way too much speculation — about his health issues to make the decision a true surprise.  And I can’t say that I regret his decision, either.  He obviously needs to put his family, and his health, first.

urban-meyer-1024x576I’d like to thank Coach Meyer for his hard work at a very demanding, and at times thankless, job.  He’s provided some great moments for the millions of members of Buckeye Nation.  We won’t forget his perfect, 7-0 record against That Team Up North, and I’ll never forget the Buckeyes’ dominant performance in Dallas when they brought home a national championship.  Coach Meyer brought the football program at The Ohio State University to a higher level than it has ever occupied before.

But Coach Meyer wasn’t just about wins and losses.  He has been, first and foremost, a coach.  Anyone who’s ever been coached, or has ever tried to coach others, knows how difficult it can be.  Coaches are motivators, teachers, mentors, supporters, challengers, and a mixture of a bunch of other important characteristics and roles.  Good coaches can mold young people and make them better, and great coaches know when a player could use a hug — and when a player needs a kick in the butt instead.

Urban Meyer is a great coach by anyone’s measure.  His record establishes that beyond any rational argument.  But if you really want to know what kind of coach he was, pay attention to what his former players say about him.  Their tributes make it clear that he has been a influential figure for many young men who appreciated his guidance and learned from his teaching and his example.

Some people hate Coach Meyer and have long been eager to malign him.  I suspect that much of that ugliness is due to resentment about his astounding success.  But if you really want to know what kind of figure he has been at The Ohio State University, you should listen to the players.  They’ll tell you in no uncertain terms what kind of coach, and person, Urban Meyer really is.

Good luck to you, Coach Meyer, and Godspeed!

Rudolph The Insensitive Reindeer

The Christmas classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was broadcast on TV recently.  It’s the timeless story of a misfit reindeer with the brilliant nose who ultimately saves Christmas during the Storm of the Century — and a misfit elf who wants to be a dentist rather than making toys.  First broadcast in the ’60s, Rudolph and its songs has been enjoyed by multiple generations of American kids.

94f266d0-ba5f-4498-9511-1268549977a0Until this year, I guess.  In the modern politically correct era where people are a lot more sensitive than they’ve ever been before, Rudolph doesn’t fare quite so well.  After all, the other reindeer are mean to poor little Rudolph at the Reindeer Games after Rudolph’s false nose falls off, and neither Coach Comet nor Rudolph’s own parents really stick up for Rudolph’s right to be different.  Poor Hermey the elf is facing a long life on the toy assembly line where he will be forced to hear the irritating chorus from We Are Santa’s Elves (Filling Santa’s Shelves) over and over again.  Hermey’s got no chance to follow his dental dreams.  Yukon Cornelius is not only a blustering blowhard, he’s a prospector who wants to tear up the landscape in search of gold when he’s not stalking and tormenting the Abominable Snowman.  And the poor Bumble, at heart a gentle soul beneath his terrifying exterior, ends up tortured by having all of his teeth pulled by people who won’t let him be himself.

And Santa, too, doesn’t exactly make a great impression, does he?  He’s certainly not very sensitive to Rudolph’s needs, or all that interested in celebrating Rudolph’s diversity.  At first he’s a bullying, self-absorbed boss, cracking the whip on the slavishly working elves and the reindeer to make sure that he can pull off another Christmas.  Even after Mrs. Claus succeeds in fattening him up and making him look a bit more jolly, he sees the light from Rudolph’s nose and embraces Rudolph’s shiny difference only when the Storm of the Century leaves him no choice.

Of course, all of these plot lines have been part of Rudolph since the beginning — we just haven’t seen the story in this light until now.  And yet, somehow, the kids who grew up watching Rudolph every holiday season ended up being reasonably well-adjusted people who aren’t out there yanking out the teeth of every passing Bumble just for the fun of it.  In fact, you might say that the story of Rudolph and Hermey and the challenges they had to overcome made those viewers just a little bit more receptive to the idea that people can be different — and that’s okay.  Would that message have the same impact if Rudolph and Hermey had been treated like champions from the outset?