Recipe quick takes: Joanne Chang’s Oatmeal-Raisin-Cranberry Cookies

It’s been a while since I did a food post (probably disappointing to all of you who followed me just for the recipes), so for the first of the year, here’s another Joanne Chang cookie recipe, Oatmeal–Raisin–Cranberry Cookies, from Baking with Less Sugar (Chronicle Books, 2015; p.–50). This one differs from the standard oatmeal-raisin cookie recipe in more ways than the obvious: these cookies are soft, moist, and tender rather than the chewy toffee-like Default Recipe. There is only 75 g of sugar, so they’re noticeably less sweet than the old standby, even with sweetened dried cranberries added to the mix. There is, however, a substantial amount of fat, between the half-pound (225 g) of butter, two eggs, one egg yolk, and 75 g of walnuts — and unusually, the butter is melted rather than being creamed with the sugar. For additional flavor, I used black walnuts rather than English.

Of course I couldn’t resist eating some of the cookie dough before baking. The dough is really quite liquid, almost a batter, when fresh; unlike some other cookie recipes, you can’t skip the overnight rest in the refrigerator, because you won’t be able to form the cookies properly until the butter resolidifies. I used a #30 disher to get approximately 50-gram dough balls, which made 13 cookies (but my assumption is that I actually should have gotten 18 if I hadn’t eaten any of the dough). Chang calls for squashing the dough balls with the palm of one’s hand onto the (parchment-lined) baking sheet, as she does in most of her other cookie recipes; these cookies do not spread much, even after 16 minutes in a 350°F (175°C) oven, so the amount of squashing on the way in will determine the diameter of the baked cookie.
Close-up of a single cookie

Since I just made these cookies on Sunday, and today is a public holiday (I’ll actually be at a hockey game in Detroit as this post goes up) I don’t have any comments from co-workers yet. I might actually not bring these in to work at all: there aren’t very many, they aren’t super-high-cal, and I could stand to have a dessert at home that isn’t chocolate. (No, seriously, sometimes I really would like to have something other than chocolate. Only sometimes, not all the time!)


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cookie
Servings per recipe: 18
Amount per serving
Calories 242 Calories from fat 123
% Daily Value
Total Fat 14​g 21%
 Saturated Fat 7​g 34%
Trans Fat 0​g
Cholesterol 58​mg 19%
Sodium 140​mg 6%
Potassium 81​mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 26​g 9%
 Dietary fiber 2​g 8%
 Sugars 14​g
Proteins 4​g 8%
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 1%
Iron 6%
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One more day in 2016 for charitable giving

If, like many people in the United States and elsewhere, you give money to charities at the end of the year, you have only a few hours left. (Note that for tax purposes, a gift made using a payment card occurs in the year when the transaction is initiated — not when it posts and not when you pay your bill. So there’s still time to make contributions for 2016 if you are eligible. IANATLORA, TINTA.)

Historically I’ve limited my giving to just a few organizations, preferring to give larger gifts in a more focused way. But this year, particularly since the election, I wanted to support some organizations that are really going to need the help, and I’d encourage everyone to do the same. I also gave to some of the organizations I more typically support.

So here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

  • Médecins sans frontières — I gave through Zeynep Tufekci’s year-end matching-gift campaign, which is motivated particularly by the situation in Yemen but is not earmarked, because MSF is better positioned to decide where the greatest need is. (And by the way, whenever you give to a crisis charity, that’s a really good idea — let the experts at the charity determine where and how best to use resources. Events can move fast.)
  • Lambda Legal
  • American Civil Liberties UnionN.B. not a charity but a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, so donations are not tax deductible, but there is a parallel 501(c)(3) charity if you don’t want your gift spent on political activity (it will still be put to good use)
  • Planned Parenthood Foundation of AmericaN.B. PPFA is the charitable 501(c)(3) which provides health-care services to vulnerable women, but there is also a parallel 501(c)(4), PPAF (Planned Parenthood Action Fund), which does political work; you can give to both if so inclined
  • Human Rights Watch reports on human-rights issues around the world and brings them to the attention of global media and policymakers
  • Center for Responsive Politics, which organizes and makes searchable the mandatory campaign-finance filings of federal candidates, political parties, and political committees
  • Constitutional Accountability Center a think-tank and public-interest law firm supporting a “progressive textualist” approach to constitutional law
  • Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the most prominent civil-rights advocacy organizations (note that some people are critical of SPLC’s financial and fundraising arrangements)
  • The FreeBSD Foundation supports the continued development of the FreeBSD operating system as a platform for research, experimentation, education, and day-to-day use. (Disclaimer: I was one of the early leaders of the FreeBSD Project, which is legally separate from the Foundation, and I am still a FreeBSD developer. I have no connection with the Foundation and receive no direct benefit from its activities.)
  • The Wikimedia Foundation supports the operation, international educational mission, and legal defense of Wikipedia and its sister projects (including Wikimedia Commons, one of the world’s largest repositories of freely-licensed images and multimedia, and Mediawiki, the software that Wikipedia runs on). (Disclaimer: I am an inactive Wikipedia, Commons, and Wikiquote editor, but I have no connection with the Foundation and receive the same benefit from its activities as everyone else on the Internet.)
  • Radiotopia is a partnership of PRX and Roman Mars, a distribution platform for independently-produced podcasts, financed on a public-radio model

Some other organizations you might consider supporting, but I ran out of time, money, or patience with badly designed Web sites: WNYC is the producer of numerous public-radio shows and associated podcasts, including “Studio 360”, “Radiolab”, and “On The Media”, but doesn’t provide a way to make a donation to those specific shows; Media Matters for America is a progressive media watchdog; the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation support civil liberties and human rights online; EMILY’s List is a progressive Political Action Committee (so not a charity) supporting female candidates for public office. A few others that I think are worthy but didn’t consider this cycle: Human Rights Campaign, Bi Resource Center, ProPublica, your local public radio and TV stations, Amnesty International, PEN, International Committee of the Red Cross (not the American Red Cross), and the friends of your local public library.

As an aside: some of these organizations do a pretty terrible job protecting their donors and Web site visitors from snooping. They could probably use some IT help, from people who understand that anything any US-based provider knows, the Trump Administration has access to after January 20.

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Are cookbooks taking over publishing?

Cookbooks are said to be the hottest category in trade publishing right now, but it’s probably a stretch to say they’re “taking over”. However, I wasted quite a bit of time creating the following (somewhat silly) table, counting the number of titles from various publishers/imprints I’ve acquired over the years. There are an awful lot of them, and a few you’d never expect — it seems that every trade publisher these days really does have to have a cookbook or two in their list to be considered “with it”. The publishers/imprints are shown with their current ownership, which is necessarily anachronistic given the consolidation in the industry over the past three decades. (I couldn’t use my library database for this because I don’t track subject categories in my database, and I only track publishers by ISBN prefix, not imprint.)

Parent Publisher Imprint # titles
Penguin Random House Crown Publishing Group Ten Speed Press 13
Clarkson Potter 5
Pam Krauss 1
Knopf Doubleday Alfred A. Knopf 4
Random House 1
Penguin USA Viking 1
Chronicle Books (dist. by Hachette) 12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 11
La Martinière Group Abrams Stewart, Tabori & Chang 9
Lagardère Group Hachette Book Group USA Hyperion 1
Little, Brown 4
Grand Central Life & Style 1
Perseus Books Group Running Press 2
Octopus Publishing Group Mitchell Beazley 1
CBS Corp. Simon & Schuster Charles Scribner’s Sons 6
Simon & Schuster 1
W. W. Norton Countryman Press 4
W. W. Norton 3
Workman Publishing Group Artisan 4
Workman 2
News Corp HarperCollins Ecco 1
Harlequin 1
William Morrow 1
Phaidon Press 3
Harvard Common Press 2
Sasquatch Books 2
Bonnier Weldon Owen 2
Andrews McMeel Universal Andrews McMeel Publishing 1
Cedar Fort, Inc. Front Table 1
Rowman & Littlefield Globe Pequot Press 1
RCS MediaGroup S.p.A. Rizzoli International 1
Hearst Books 1
Garden Way 1
Prospect Park Books 1
John Wiley & Sons 1
Kyle Books 1
Gibbs Smith 1
Midway 1
Levin Associates 1
O’Reilly Media 1
Ryland Peters & Small 1
Boston Common Press LP (dba America’s Test Kitchen) 1
Prima 1
Interlink Books 1
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Quote of the Day

Hey, it’s been a really long time since I posted a quote of the day. So here’s one for you all:

A society in which smart, hard-working young people with generic ambitions tend to become hedge fund and private equity fund managers, management consultants, corporate lawyers, and strategists for technology monopolies is probably not one that is allocating talent effectively.

— James Y. Kwak, “The Curse of Credentialism“, The Baseline Scenario (2016-12-26)

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Holiday Baking 2016

This year’s holiday baking, for a variety of reasons, will consist of things that I’ve done previously and have already written about, so I won’t be posting any more recipe walk-throughs for the rest of the year. See you in the new year, and may 2017 be better than 2016 has turned out to be.

  • Already done: makowiec, a Polish poppy-seed-filled sweet bread I did in 2014 for CSAIL Holiday Baking Fest
  • For my birthday cake, Diane Duane’s “Mycroft’s Delight“, which I did first in January of this year
  • An evergreen Christmas favorite, Cook’s Illustrated‘s “Chocolate Caramel Walnut Tart“, using black walnuts rather than English/Persian for the flavor
  • Emily and Melissa Elsen’s Cranberry–Sage Pie, which I did for the family Christmas Eve party in 2014 (“Three Great Holiday Pies“)
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Other people’s recipes: EuropeanCuisineLady’s Black Bun

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Somewhere, and I can’t exactly pin down either where or when, EuropeanCuisineLady (in real life, American-Irish SF writer Diane Duane, co-proprietor of European Cuisines with her husband Peter Morwood) posted something about how it was getting to be the time … Continue reading

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So what just happened?

I’ve been pretty quiet lately, and haven’t had a whole lot of time or energy for baking. But we just had this, um, shocking result in an election, and I wanted to put a few words down about it. Everything I write below has to be understood as provisional, to be revised as new evidence and new arguments come in. This is a summary of a tweetstorm I made a few hours ago, patched up and edited a bit for clarity.

So I’ve been thinking, as I think we all have, about what happened in the election. While I was shocked by the outcome, and wasn’t expecting it, I do think we can see it as part and parcel with the “coastal vs. heartland” (or even “urban vs. rural”) culture war that has been at a low boil since at least the waning years of the Bush 43 administration. At the heart of it is a simple distinction that, while it seems overly legalistic, forms a large part of the cultural divide over #BlackLivesMatter, police violence, economic inequality, and gender equity, among many other issues. It has to do with the way we (the educated, metropolitan liberals) communicate with our fellow citizens in other places and other economic situations about these issues, and it has to do with the self-conception we and they do not share.

Anyone who has studied discrimination law will be familiar with the two theories of discrimination: “discriminatory intent” and “disparate impact”. Discriminatory intent is what it says on the tin: some person in a position of power is discriminating against someone else, intentionally, out of an animus against that person (or, in the usual formulation, against a group that person identifiably belongs to). Disparate impact is much less clear-cut: somehow, for some reason, outcomes are very different for members of one group relative to another, beyond the explanatory power of any measurable difference in those groups per se. Liberals place great emphasis on disparate impact discrimination, as evidence of structural problems in society that require explicit intervention to remedy. Conservatives and many moderates flat-out reject disparate-impact theories of discrimination, holding that discriminatory intent — and only discriminatory intent — is wrong or should be legally actionable. Disparate impact theories also require a degree of statistical sophistication that is beyond even many well-educated people, especially those who have not studied a science or engineering discipline that requires it. (That includes many computer scientists, by the way, but it also includes most lawyers and even many doctors.) We’ve seen this numerous times as disparate-impact claims have been dashed on the rocks of a conservative-dominated judiciary, where no amount of statistical evidence that liberals would interpret as pointing towards structural discrimination suffices to sustain a claim absent proof of particularized animus towards a specific claimant.

This disparity in interpretation results in two completely different social constructions of phenomena like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. Many people — decent people, not only in their own self-image but viewed objectively — who have no animus against any identifiable group, will support measures and candidates and propositions that can have horrendous negative impacts on some minority community, and see nothing wrong with it. In their understanding, their policy preference is driven by entirely neutral considerations and preferences, not by animus, and (whether explicitly rejecting or just failing to understand the disparate impact) “cannot be discriminatory”. We’re not talking about the “I’m not a racist but…” crowd here, but people who genuinely understand discrimination as a matter of intent alone, irrespective of outcomes.

But for coastal liberals like me, and the members of those minority communities, that impact is what matters, whether it’s driven by discriminatory intent (as in North Carolina, apparently) or not. As far as we’re concerned, if you make common cause with racists, homophobes, neo-Nazis, misogynists, Islamophobes, the Klan, and all the rest, you’re no better than they are — perhaps even worse, because at least they’re honest about their animus, and you’re just deluded. But these people understandably find such characterizations highly objectionable: if your lodestar is intent, rather than impact, then it’s downright hurtful to be called a racist, etc. By defining these people as “beyond the Pale”, we lose the ability to communicate respectfully with them, to address their concerns, or even make ourselves understood. That doesn’t excuse the harmful effects of their choices, but it is all the less likely that we will be able to make these understand the harm if they feel they’re being (as we would say) Othered by us.

This is not to say that among Donald Trump’s supporters you won’t find any number of neo-Nazis, racists, misogynists, homophobes (like VP-elect Mike Pence), and all the other “deplorables” in Hillary Clinton’s “basket” metaphor. They’re loud, and they’re skilled in making the social-media echo chambers reverberate with their poison. But there are far more people who supported Trump who are fundamentally decent people, and they are potentially reachable, could possibly be convinced that there is a better, more righteous path than the one they have chosen. There’s a gap, hopefully a bridgeable one, that must be overcome if we are to make progress. We cannot change their minds by condescension alone; they’re on to that; they can see it, feel it.

It’s going to require education, and empathy. It demands that we not retreat into our comfortable big-city lives, giving thanks that we don’t live in one of those backwards, regressive places. Change has to start with us.

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This past week I missed what was probably my last chance this year for a week of bike commuting, because I spent much of it traveling instead — and, as I found out from the bike shop when I got home on Saturday, my rear wheel was cracked anyway, and it will take most of this week to order the replacement wheel and swap it in. (Oh well, good thing I’m going on another trip.)

Ostensibly the purpose of my travel was to see baseball games — back when I bought the tickets, late-season visits to Baltimore and Tampa seemed like an exciting prospect. I scheduled my Baltimore trip with enough time on the following day to still see the game if it got rained out — no need for that in Tampa since it’s a dome — with the theory that I could do some sightseeing if the weather cooperated. The Tampa trip, by contrast, was little more than fly in, pick up rental car, drive to hotel, drive to ballpark, drive back to hotel, return rental car, and fly home — all told I spent less than 20 hours in Tampa. (I did at least contemplate driving up the Gandy Causeway and going wading in the 88°F waters of Tampa Bay, but chose to read in my hotel room instead.)

The result of this is that I have now seen the Red Sox play at every AL East ballpark save one — and that will be remedied Wednesday night in the Bronx. But it reminded me, also, how little I care for traveling alone. On trips like this, I have an agenda, very little time or energy for doing anything spontaneous, and it costs rather more than I would prefer — but given the lack of anyone I might travel with there’s no alternative. This was really brought home to me on Thursday morning, the day after the game in Baltimore. I had a 5 PM flight out of Washington National, which left plenty of time to do other things, and so I figured I would drive back up to Baltimore (from my budget hotel in the Columbia area) and make my way to the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University, and see just how much had changed in the 26½ years since I had last set foot there.

I found a parking garage (that’s a new thing for sure) and got out of the car to walk around. Much of the campus hasn’t changed all that much — a bit of construction on the building I still remember as Rowland Hall (renamed at the end of my year there), and a few new buildings, mostly in the southwest part of campus by the art museum. I was struck by the addition of security barriers in front of the freshman dorms — and of course I couldn’t get close enough to the entrance to my old dorm to even get a good picture (it was hidden behind a tree). I saw the dining hall where I ate all my meals, though, although it has certainly been transformed like food service on most campuses in the past decades. I saw a hot Asian dude clearly walking back to his dorm from some sort of athletic endeavor, and mused a bit on how, back in the day, I doubt I could have conceived of “hot dude” — that didn’t come until a few years later (I’ve told that story elsewhere). Ironically, I was wearing my Bi Pride t-shirt that day (it was quite warm in Baltimore, and anyway, it was Bi Visibility Week so I figured I had some obligation to be visible — but nobody noticed that I could tell). The language lab where I had worked (although not officially on “work-study”, which was a form of financial aid some students got) was of course completely gone, having been overtaken by technological changes in the past decade, but the whole building where it was located looked to have been gutted and had its insides replaced.

I was only at Hopkins for one year: after my freshman year, I was denied financial aid, and my parents weren’t rich enough even to get a loan (I was 17 and couldn’t borrow money in my own name, which I gather is now the done thing) so I had to withdraw, and half a year later transferred to UVM where I could get in-state tuition: although their computer science program was rather lacking, at least it was affordable for my parents. It’s sobering to contemplate how differently my life might have turned out, if I had been able to stay at Hopkins. Probably I would have at least tried to go on to grad school, although I’m not sure I would have been any good at it; perhaps I might have ended up on the faculty of some third-tier university somewhere. Maybe, in a residential setting far from home, I might have met someone to spend my life with. Who knows? (That was at least the year I became a baseball fan — the Orioles were, rather unexpectedly, good in 1989, and there was a lot of buzz about the pennant race. I would stick with the O’s for a while before latching on to the Expos — our “local” team in northern Vermont, and parent club of the local minor-league team — and then eventually moving to Boston and following the Red Sox.)

After my visit to Hopkins, it was an hour-plus drive down to my next stop, a return visit to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the branch of the Air and Space Museum where all the really big exhibits are — including the space shuttle Discovery, brought there in exchange for the Enterprise when the shuttle program ended five years ago. A bit unfortunate that I ended up next to Dulles airport when my flight out was at National, and the traffic in Northern Virginia between the two is unremittingly awful at its best. So I had plenty of time to contemplate my experience earlier in the day, and how nice it would have been to be taking someone else — someone close — on my walk around campus, and indeed around Baltimore in general. (And that’s not even getting into the cost of the rental car and hotel!) But there is no such person, and at this rate may never be, which is a continuing source of sadness for me.

When I got back from Tampa, I heard from my parents that they would not be able to join me in Helsinki next March, where I hoped to see the World Figure Skating Championships. Now I’m not sure if I will go, given both the painful memories that I still have of Finland and the prospect of doing it all alone; I’ll have to make a decision one way or the other fairly soon. It’s leaving me feeling more than a bit melancholy, hence this post. Meanwhile, I do have a trip planned to New York this coming week, and to Ottawa for a hockey game in October, but that really just reinforces the isolation. (I will at least be joined by a friend for the ball game in New York, although I don’t yet know if he has anything else planned for the following day when I’ll be at loose ends.)

Applications accepted, if you’re smart, cute, fit, and looking for someone to travel with. Bonus points if you’d care to visit Helsinki when it’s just barely spring and probably still snowy.

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Quote of the day

(A teacher in a sorcery school is giving an impromptu lecture:)

“Each of you may live a long time; each of you is of significant strength. You could do good, if you could judge all the consequences of what you might do. Yet the world is immense; a full understanding of the consequence is direly difficult to obtain, even should you live for thousands of years to see how what you have done works on the world, and yet good remains a judgement.”

“Act to avoid constraining the future; if you can, act to remove constraint from the future. This is a thing you can do, are able to do, to do together. Sorcerers are not made free of a need for their fellows; much of the lamentation of history derives from attempts to be safe despite that need.”

“Remember that the least constrained future anyone has yet managed prefers the rule of law to the whims of wizards.”

—Graydon Saunders, A Succession of Bad Days (2015), chapter 29

I’m of a mind that that last imperative could as well be directed at many of the people in Silicon Valley who are busily trying to remake the world in their own image.

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Advice for fantasy writers

Advice for fantasy writers, from a reader

(Originally published as a sequence of tweets in slightly different form.)

Let the story go where it needs to go. Don’t fill in too much of the background.

Remember that, if you’re successful, those characters are now living in other minds besides your own. Don’t make them do things that they wouldn’t do; always have a good reason that makes sense from your character’s point of view.

Leave some room for the reader’s imagination. Leave some room for the fanfic writers, too. (You don’t have to read any of it.)

Make a map, if you need it to get directions straight, but don’t publish it.

Stop when you can no longer keep enough of the story in your mind to know when you’re contradicting yourself.

But don’t be afraid (pace Bujold) to have a better idea.

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