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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Soup Canned

Household food staples of the 1960s have had a tough time of it lately.  Production of the glorious Twinkie was halted for a while a few years ago when its maker went through bankruptcy, and now comes news that the Campbell Soup Company — a brand so iconic and associated with American meals that its soup cans were painted by Andy Warhol — is struggling, too.

w1siziisijmxodi0mijdlfsiccisimnvbnzlcnqilcitcmvzaxplidiwmdb4mjawmfx1mdazzsjdxqAccording to a report in the New York Times, Campbell’s earnings fell 50 percent last quarter, sales of its soups have been declining, and expensive acquisitions have left the company dealing with significant debt without providing any help in the sales department.  The company’s stock price trails the rest of the stock market and has lost a third of its value, and the company’s chief executive, Denise Morrison, stepped down under pressure earlier this year.  And now the company’s Board of Directors is facing a challenge that pits a hedge fund and dissidents who want the business to be sold or restructured against the heirs of John Dorrance, the chemist who invented condensed soups more than a century ago.  The Dorrance descendants own 40 percent of Campbell’s stock, have lived lifestyles of great wealth as a result of their descendants’ creation, and want to make sure that any changes that occur happen on their terms.

Why is Campbell’s struggling?   The Times notes that the company is “fighting headwinds like declining consumer interest in packaged food and a preference for fresh ingredients over highly processed soup from a can.”  Some people believe that the company has lost its focus with its acquisitions and needs to return to a soup-centric model, and analyst contend that the company hasn’t adequately responded to marketplace changes.  The article points out that “Campbell Soup cans, for example, have barely changed since 1900, and the top sellers remain tomato, chicken noodle and cream of mushroom.”

Of course, for many of us, those three soup options were familiar ingredients of meals when we were growing up.  In the Webner household, Campbell’s tomato soup (made with milk, not water) and grilled cheese was a highly popular dinner, countless casseroles were made with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup was the inevitable lunch if you were home sick from school with a cold.

I hope Campbell’s can figure out its problems.  Although I haven’t had a lot of Campbell’s soup lately, there’s something comforting about seeing those familiar red and white cans on the grocery store shelves, and I still think tomato soup and grilled cheese is something to be relished on a cold winter’s day.

The Sleepless Years

Here’s a conclusion from a scientific study that will shock anyone who has ever been a parent:  most babies don’t sleep through the night.  And the study also reaches another, equally startling determination:  most parents pay a lot of attention to trying to get their infants to sleep through the night.

Thank goodness we’ve got scientists around to confirm the obvious!

newborn baby cryingThe study found that 38 percent of babies that were six months old were not getting even six uninterrupted hours of sleep at night, and more than half weren’t sleeping for eight hours straight.  One-year-olds were only marginally better, on average, with 28 percent not yet sleeping for six hours and 43 percent not sleeping for a solid 8 hours at night.  The study also found that many parents worry about their baby’s sleeping habits, with mothers reporting feeling tense and depressed about trying to get their child to sleep through the night.   The researchers offered this reassurance for anxious parents, however:  after following babies from birth until the age of three, they found no material developmental difference between kids who slept through the night at a young age and those who took longer.

The study’s authors seem to attribute parental focus on their new baby’s sleep habits solely to developmental concerns.  I’m sure that some of the attention to infant sleep is attributable to reading the “baby books” about what is normal and what isn’t, but my personal experience teaches that at least some of it is naked parental self-interest.  When our boys got to the point of getting a good night’s sleep — which incidentally meant that Kish and I got a good night’s sleep, too — we felt like we had crossed the Rubicon and should be popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.  When a baby finally starts eating simple solid food (if you can call baby food “solid”) and falls into a sound sleep with a full belly, the mood around the house takes a decided turn for the better.

What’s up next for the scientific researchers trying to confirm what every parent knows?  A careful examination of the joys of changing baby diapers?

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

This Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for:

• My wonderful wife;

• The good health and good spirits of my family and friends;

• A fine Thanksgiving meal with family that will be (hopefully) without any trace of rancorous political arguments;

• Being free from the want, worry, and oppression that troubles so much of the world;

• The many excellent books, films, and TV shows I’ve enjoyed this year, and the creative spirits who produced them;

• The opportunity to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes break more than a few Michigan Wolverine hearts this Saturday;

• The kind words I’ve received from faithful readers of this blog;

• That pre-Thanksgiving piece of pumpkin pie I snuck last night; and

• This chance to count my blessings on a chilly but peaceful Thanksgiving morning while drinking a hot cup of coffee and listening to some baroque music.

May everyone celebrate a similarly long list of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Turkey On The Road

With Thanksgiving only two days away, many Americans are bracing themselves.  They know that, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, or maybe — God forbid! — on Thanksgiving itself, they will hop into a car and try to drive to Grandma’s house through the gnarliest, most soul-crushing gridlock imaginable.

1009114412-turkey-klein-14-1260x800The venerable American Automobile Association is predicting that this will be the worst Thanksgiving travel week ever — which is really saying something.  The AAA forecasts that 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes this Thanksgiving, which is almost five percent higher than last year.  And if you’re one of those lucky  travelers who lives in a select American city, the AAA is even offering guidance on which route at which time will encounter the heaviest traffic and the longest delays.  According to the AAA, for example, if you leave San Francisco between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday and take I-680 north, you can expect 4 times the normal travel time between exits 8 and 21.  In most cities, the worst delays are expected to occur today, between 5:30 and 7 p.m.

Over the years Kish and I have occasionally traveled around the Thanksgiving holidays, and we’ve always deeply regretted it.  The worst incident occurred when we tried to drive from Columbus to Vermilion one Thanksgiving Day and got stuck in a massive traffic jam on I-71, which was like a parking lot.  It took hours to inch along, and when we finally arrived nobody had the placid, Pilgrim-like calm you hope to achieve on Thanksgiving.  If I recall correctly, the pre-meal backyard football game that year was a tad more aggressive than usual.

This year, I’m extremely thankful that I’m not driving anywhere outside of Columbus.  For those of you who will be on the road — well, good luck.

Memory Lane

We were up in Akron today for a funeral service for an old and dear family friend.  It gave Kish, Cath and me a chance to visit the Webner clan lived in before we moved to Columbus, see some fondly remembered acquaintances again, and visit Portage Country Club, the Tudor-style building where we had countless family gatherings — including weddings, showers, and birthday celebrations — over the years.

I had to take a look at the “Board Room,” pictured above, where Grandpa Neal hosted annual luncheons that featured lots of revelry, Baked Alaska for dessert, and Grandpa’s remarks in which he gave a recap of the year and, speaking totally from memory, recounted the highlights for everyone in attendance.  I looked at the table and thought that, if we were to try to convene that gathering now, many of the chairs would be empty and those of us still around would look a lot grayer and more bowed than we once did.  As we left Portage Country Club, I wondered if this was the last time I would pass through its big wooden doors.

They say that funerals are a time for remembering, and our visit to Akron today certainly set me to thinking back to old times.  It was a wistful experience, but I enjoyed taking a little trip down memory lane.

Bring Your Parents To Work Day

According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to host “Bring Your Parents to Work” days.  The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that around 1 percent of American employers host such an event, with advertising and tech companies like LinkedIn leading the way.

fullsizerender__1_Companies see such events as appealing to young employees who are close to their parents. (Or, stated alternatively, some companies may realize that they’re hiring Gen X/Y/Zers who have helicopter parents who have always been deeply involved in every facet of their children’s lives and expect that to continue into core adulthood activities like working at a job.)

The article reports that the parents who attend these days wander around the office, wearing matching “Josh’s Mom” and “Josh’s Dad” t-shirts and snapping pictures of their kids at work and posting them on Facebook.  And, parents being parents, it’s not unusual for them to corner executives and pepper them with questions about how the company is doing — and, presumably, why their gifted kid isn’t moving faster up the corporate ladder.  For that reason, some of the children admit that having Ma and Pa at the office can be an anxiety-inducing experience.  Others, though, think that visits from their folks will help their parents understand what they do and where they spend a lot of their time.

It’s another example of how family dynamics have changed over the years.  My parents were interested in making sure that I got a job, kept a job, and became self-supporting, because that was part of the road to responsible adulthood, but they sure didn’t express any desire to experience the workplace with me for a day — and I really wouldn’t have wanted them to do so, anyway.

Some people obviously see the notion of “Bring Your Parents to Work” days as a way for parents who are close to their kids to further cement that bond.  I see the workspace, in contrast, as off-limits territory, where people should be making it on their own, without oversight from Mom and Dad.  I think it’s part of the boundary drawing that has to occur as children grow up and make it on their own.  Apparently, not everybody wants to draw those boundaries these days.