Candy Cane Cookies

I’m cooking these this Thursday and thought I’d type it up here. Mom found this recipe in a Southern Living cookbook, attributed to Mrs. HS Wright from Charlotte, NC. I’ve made it off and on at Christmas for years, with some modifications.

Candy Cane Cookies

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup crushed peppermints (not in original recipe)
  • 1 tsp red food coloring
  • 1/3 cup crushed peppermints
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Original directions:

  1. Cream shortening and butter in large mixing bowl.
  2. Add next 6 ingredients and mix well.
  3. Divide dough in 1/2, add food coloring to one portion.
  4. Make candy canes and place on greased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 375 for 9 minutes or edges begin to brown.
  6. Combine 1/3 cup crushed peppermints and sugar and sprinkle on warm cookies.
  7. Bake at 375 for 9-10 minutes or edges begin to brown.

Casey’s version:

  1. Cream shortening and butter in large mixing bowl.
  2. Add next 6 ingredients and mix well.
  3. Divide dough in 1/2, add food coloring and 1/4 cup crushed peppermints to one portion.
  4. Mix 1/3 cup crushed peppermints and sugar in a bowl.
  5. Take a bit of each colored dough and form marbleized balls.
  6. Roll dough balls in crushed peppermint and sugar and place on greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 375 for 9-10 minutes or edges begin to brown.

Yields about 4 dozen cookies. As you can tell, my version has a bit more peppermint and a lot less work. The candy cane forms tend to cook unevenly and burn on the edges, not to mention they tend to break and are time consuming to make.

Pre-holiday sweets

I am not ready for Christmas. I don’t intend to be ready for Christmas until Dec 22nd at the earliest. I am, however, craving Christmas goodies, particularly cookies. The following are on my to-make list between now, or as soon as it cools off, and mid-January:

  • pumpkin pie (family recipe)
  • pecan pie (Emeril’s recipe, although Renee insists I need to try hers)
  • candy cane cookies (one of my favorites!)
  • Christmas tree cookies (Greta’s recipe)
  • pumpkin roll (family recipe)
  • brandied pecans (Jenny Wible’s recipe)
  • chocolate kissed macaroons
  • banana bread (Jan’s recipe)

And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m relying on friends and coworkers to assist with the consumption — I can’t run enough to burn it all off.

The Axemaker’s Gift

I recently finished The Axemaker’s Gift by James Burke and Robert Ornstein. The book outlines key innovations throughout human history that significantly altered the course of our history. The journey is fascinating and I’d highly recommend the book.

Two of the innovations and their repercussions were so interesting to me, that I wanted to call them out.

  • The alphabet. Not written language in the abstract mind you, but the alphabet specifically. The use of letters representing individual sounds that could be rearranged and mapped easily to oral language was in sharp contrast to hieroglyphics and other pictorial languages that came before. The alphabet began the slow process of moving power from the elite (rulers and their scholars) to a still small, but larger, portion of the population. It also allowed for the development of formalized logic and analysis as instead of trying to retain the details of what one was thinking about inside your head, you could now write them down — essentially using the written word as an extension to your thought process.
  • Gutenberg’s printing press. It’s no surprise this one was close to my heart (it’s also the reason I bought the book to begin with). The use of movable metal type for the quick reproduction of written material is fairly straightforward, although still awe-inspiring to me as to its impact. The part I found fascinating is that the use of the printing press was closely linked to the strengthening of national identity after the bible was translated into countries native languages. This increased national identity eroded people’s link to the Catholic church as they began to associate themselves more as people of a land with a common language and less as a people based solely on a common religion.

A quote from the book that I particularly enjoyed was from Plato writing to Thoth regarding Thoth’s “invention of writing”:

For your invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through lack of practice in using their memory, as through reliance on writing they are reminded from outside by alien marks, not from inside, themselves by themselves: you have discovered an elixir not of memory but of reminding. To your students you give an appearance of wisdom, not the reality of it; having heard much, in the absence of teaching, they will appear to know much when for the most part they know nothing, and they will be difficult to get along with, because they have acquired the appearance of wisdom instead of wisdom itself.

Sounds like this xkcd comic, no?

I think smartphones are the next disruptive innovation for the human race. Their use has become so pervasive and the capabilities they are enabling so diverse, from instant access of information to augmented reality, that I believe they are fundamentally changing how we interact with each other and our environment. What moveable type did for the written word, smartphones are doing for information.

New commute: 4x further

Friday is the last day Isilon will be at 3101 Western Ave. Starting Monday, we’ll be in our new headquarters at 505 1st Ave S. That changes my commute from a 0.3 mile walk to a 1.8 mile walk. Or more likely, catching one of a half-dozen buses that go from my neighborhood down to the new office.

I’m looking forward to the new location. After living and working in this area for the past 9 months, I know the Lower Queen Anne and Belltown areas very well — time to get to know Pioneer Square and the International District.

The only downside is that we are literally two blocks away from both CenturyLink nee Quest Field and SafeCo Field and will get all the traffic those generate (both street and mass-transit). I’ll have to start paying attention to when games and other activities are going on and act accordingly (leave early, work from home, etc).

“You are simply adorable. Don’t change a thing.”

Armed with The Axemaker’s Gift I dined alone tonight at an Italian place on the hill. Halfway through dinner a handsome older guy stopped by my table on his way out and said “You are simply adorable. Don’t change a thing. If I were 20 years younger I’d sit down and buy you a drink.” He didn’t look older than mid- to late 40s, so he probably thought I was in my mid-20s. I just smiled and said thank you.

I’d been in an odd funk all day, not sure if I was just tired or what, but his comment made my day. Not sure that the takeaway is to eat more dinners at restaurants alone however.

A corollary for Seattle men: assertiveness and forthrightness gets you points. 

Stupid is a local minimum

My mother likes to joke that when I was born, I took all her smarts.

Growing up I thought everyone around me was stupid. According to my parents, I was quite vocal about this too. At some point I was given at least a couple IQ tests, and while I never knew the results, I always got the feeling from my folks that I was smarter than the average bear. [I distinctly remember being asked by one of the test givers if the sun rose in the east or the west, and having no idea I guessed — incorrectly.] I was always in the gifted and talented classes at school, scored high on the SAT test, and ended up at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at age 16 with 199 of the smartest math & science kids from all over the state of Texas.

Then I figured out that I wasn’t near as smart as I thought I was. I was the stupid one.

In one fail swoop I went from being in the top 10% of my class to the bottom 10%. I was struggling with trig in pre-cal when many of my fellow TAMSters were working through calculus. For once, I had to study and work at school. I did well enough and loved every single minute of it, but it certainly recalibrated my smart scale, and I was no longer at the top.

Since that time I’ve gained more wisdom and realized that intelligence isn’t an absolute scale, or at least if it is we’ve never really plumbed either the depths or the heights. Moreover there are multiple scales, or at a minimum multiple dimensions. There’s spacial intelligence, mathematical intelligence, social intelligence, and problem-solving intelligence just to name a few. Folks strong in one are aren’t necessarily strong in another.

Throughout my career I continue to run into crazy smart people. Coworkers at both IBM and Isilon continually amaze me with their ability to look at a problem or situation, go “huh”, and solve them. Likewise conversations with friends will demonstrate that I’m far from the smartest person at the dinner table — at least in the area at hand. At first this made me feel stupid (and technically I suppose that’s because in those situations I am “in a state of stupor” on the subject). Now I appreciate it for what it is: recognition of someone else’s mental agility and a much-needed mental challenge to at least feel the edges of their thought process even if I can’t grasp it firmly with both hands.

Today, in many ways, I did feel like stupid one in the command & control room at the Microsoft Puzzlehunt. Here were ~15 smart people who created these complex puzzles and meta puzzles (complete with theme, plot, costumes, and skits), and were running the event for almost a thousand people. My contribution to the effort: picking up food. And you know – I loved every minute of it. Sure, I was most certainly the local minimum in the room for puzzle solving intelligence but I was ok with that. Maybe I’ve gotten less competitive overall as I’ve aged or maybe it’s that I’ve gained the bit of wisdom that it takes all kinds of smarts to make the world go ’round.

I’m still immodest enough to think I’m smarter than the average bear. Maybe not smart enough to get a job at Google, Facebook, or Tagged by the sounds of it, but still smart enough to know I need to do better at challenging myself intellectually.

September 11th – get over it already

It’s that time of the year when I start avoiding Facebook until all the comments about “remembering September 11th” stop. And given that it’s been 10 years, you think we could have moved on and stop dwelling on this. On September 11th, ~3,000 people died. It was, and will forever be, a horrible tragedy – no question. But lets put it in perspective.

On June 6th, 2,499 Americans were killed. At best it gets a passing mention in the newspaper (that’s D-Day – 1944). “But wait”, you say, “those were soldiers – that’s a tragedy too but it’s the cost of war”. Fine – then what about December 7th when 2,402 people died (that’s the attacks on Pearl Harbor – 1941). Yes, many of them were soldiers, but they weren’t actively engaged with an enemy at the time — they were having breakfast.

So why all the hubbub about September 11th? It can’t be the total number of people killed. It can’t be that those killed weren’t fighting in a war. It can’t be that it was the first major attack on US soil. Is it that it was the first attack on the mainland US? Is it just the Pearl Harbor of our generation and that, in time, it will ease out of people’s minds or the importance dwindle as the generation that lived through it die off? Is it etched deeper into the minds of our generation than D-Day and Pearl Harbor was of our grandparents because of the vivid real-time images the modern age made possible?

Or, rather, is it that for the first time the American people woke up and realized that we are not god’s gift to the world, that not everyone likes us (not a surprise to anyone who travels overseas even before 9/11), and in fact some people hate us. That we aren’t invulnerable and are susceptible to the violence we once saw only on TV; violence happening in places like Israel, Palestine, Spain (Madrid train bombings), and India (Mumbai attacks). That, in short, Americans woke up to the reality that we live in a scary world too, and remembering September 11th and commemorating those that died is an attempt to reclaim our childlike ignorance of how the world really is — because we were happier that way.

The more we commemorate September 11th, the more the terrorists have achieved their purpose of giving them the attention they desire. I’m not saying we should forget it, but we need to stop celebrating it. Lets learn the lessons we as a country needed to learn and move on.

Instead, if you feel the uncontrollable desire to remember September 11th for something, do so because it’s my Dad’s birthday — that seems like a much better thing to celebrate.

Fall friend cleaning

I’ve been pondering “cleaning up” my friends list on Facebook for a few months now. Over the years I’ve been pretty haphazard about my criteria for adding someone as a friend, and while I don’t expect that to change I think its time to prune the list (that’s the OCD kicking in).

My primary rationale on adding friends to Facebook have been because either:

  • you’re a friend from my youth I wanted to reconnect with
  • you’re a current friend I’d invite over for dinner (even if we don’t live in the same town/state/country)
  • you’re a new acquaintance I’m interested in getting to know better (or vice versa)

In the spring of 2009, in a very passive-aggressive action against my family, I accepted friend requests from virtually any high school friend for the sole purposes of letting them find out I was gay and passing that around the little town I grew up in. Childish and undoubtedly ineffective, but there you have it. I also accepted friend requests from Benjamin’s extended family to stay plugged into their lives, and I think it’s time to start trimming those ties as part of some closure.

I’ve never been a collector of people — I’d much rather develop a smaller group of close friends than a wide net of acquaintances. So sometime over the next few days and weeks I’ll be quietly “unfriending” people on Facebook that don’t fall into one of the categories listed above. And while I shouldn’t have to say this, I will anyway: if you’re one of the affected people, this is not an attack on you. If you feel that strongly about wanting my boring status updates to appear on your wall, friend me again. And anyone is welcome to follow my still-boring but longer blog posts.