Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Apparently the celebration of this holiday is spreading from America to Europe and encroaching upon All Saints' Day, somewhat to the concern of the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. There's an article in the latest edition headlined "Hallowe'en's Dangerous Messages", which quotes a Spanish priest as saying, "Hallowe'en has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian.... Parents should be aware of this and try to direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty rather than terror, fear and death." Fine with me; if I had kids I wouldn't want them seeing some of the gruesome evil-looking displays people are building on their front lawns now. So instead, here are some pictures I got in an email forward today.

The teabag is adorable but I think I must give the edge to the turtle. :)

Here's how Halloween went for me when I was a kid. On the appointed day I'd wait impatiently for sundown, then pull on that pink ballerina dress (a hand-me-down from my sister) that got tighter every year. Halloween was not a holiday that inspired my mom, so my siblings and I didn't usually have new costumes or fancy plastic buckets to put our candy in. Instead we yanked the pillowcases off our pillows to use as candy sacks. That was the far superior method anyway; you can hardly fit anything in those silly little pumpkins.

Once everything was ready, the four of us set off together to troll the neighborhood (our parents were cool enough to let us go without them). We knocked wherever a light was on. Almost all the houses participated, and when the people weren't home they often left bowls of candy on the porch for us to help ourselves. We'd keep trick-or-treating till weariness overcame greed. I remember being so tired and footsore, and wondering if I'd even make it home, and yet there was always regret when I thought of the streets we hadn't gotten to. But we'd limp home with our heavy pillowcases and gratefully sit down on the living room rug. And then came that glorious moment of dumping out our sacks and gazing upon our mountains of candy, and sorting the loot, and trading for our favorite kinds (mine were Kit Kats and Smarties.) Halloween candy lasted my siblings till Thanksgiving. I seem to recall that mine disappeared faster than that.

Around age fifteen I gave up trick-or-treating with regret. By that time even I had to admit that I was too darn old for it, but I never outgrew that thrill of getting free candy at every door. What a fun custom for a neighborhood to have. :)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Catastrophe On Ice

My friend Heather and I went ice skating today in celebration of her birthday. I last tried this about sixteen years ago; Heather tried it for the first and only time about twelve years ago.

So we got to the rink, laced up our rented skates, and cautiously began to shuffle our way across the rug. Heather said our awkward walk reminded her of Imperial AT-ATs, and all we needed was some Ewoks to string rope in front of us and make us fall. Heather's a bit of a nerd.

As we inched closer to the rink entrance, we passed a man going the other way. "You can make it!" he encouraged us. If they're saying that before you even get on the ice...

I compulsively crossed myself before stepping onto the rink. We both began to slide forward, very cautiously, holding the wall at all times. Some little kids were on the ice as well, doing jumps and spins and backwards skating and heaven knows what else-- I couldn't watch them for very long without getting off balance.

After a while we both found our ice legs and managed to let go of the wall and skate a bit faster. We tired out well before the kids did, though. It was lots of fun to mess around on the ice, and just as fun to get the skates off our tired feet afterward and sink into the soft seats of Heather's car.

I'd show you photographic evidence of all this, but neither Heather nor I felt inclined to document our display of gracefulness. :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Case Against Blogging

Well, great. Stefan McDaniel writes in First Things' On the Square:

Someone recently encouraged me to write more, because “words aren’t lifeblood. Words are cheap.” Words are certainly held cheap, and the blogosphere has drastically lowered the going rate....

The blogpost is biased toward speed, brevity, and cleverness. It thus hands the public square over to bullies, sophists, and clowns....

Furthermore, even good blogging threatens to worsen our already bad relation with the written word. Several excellent bloggers have told me that they find it much harder than they once did either to follow sustained written arguments (especially when not tricked out with flashy rhetoric) or to make such arguments themselves; they have grown impatient with writing that does not meet bloggy criteria.

The scary thing is, I think there's something to this. I've noticed that even when I have all sorts of good books I could be reading, and even though on the web there are plenty of thoughtful, informative, interesting articles.... I somehow end up cruising around the same silly sites again and again, hoping they're updated. icanhazcheezburger and Cake Wrecks and Photoshop Disasters and such are pretty entertaining, but I don't want to be spending so much time on them. And at the same time I'm so impatient about following a sustained line of thought, even if it's, say, a trenchant and beautifully written sermon by John Henry Newman.

Eh, I'm bored with this subject. Check out these stormtroopers on the anniversary of the Death Star explosion!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The question words quiz!

I have assembled six questions, some easy, some hard, one pretty much impossible. Click any picture for a larger version. Here we go!

Who is this?

What is this?

When is this?

Where is this?

Why is this?

How is this?

Pray, leave your answers in the comments. Also, I hereby declare this a meme and encourage others to blog their own picture quizzes for us to try.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Autoclave adventure

On Monday of this week I needed to sterilize some liquid culture medium, so I loosened the cap of the bottle to ventilate, set the bottle in a plastic tray, and placed the tray in the autoclave. (An autoclave is like a big metal oven that gets up to very high temperature and pressure and so kills any bacteria that might be hanging around inside.)

When the cycle was done I slowly opened the autoclave door and then gazed in wonderment. My bottle of medium looked normal, but it was surrounded by lots and lots of thick white foam. What on earth could have created that foam? And where was the plastic tray?

Then I realized that the plastic tray had melted completely, boiled into little bubbles, and solidified that way.

(We do have plastic trays that are made to be autoclaved; my mistake lay in assuming that this particular tray was one such.)

I had to check with various authorities to make sure the melted plastic wouldn't be a health hazard or clog an important exhaust valve in the autoclave or something. Oh, have I mentioned that I'm my lab's Safety Officer? That's me. The Safety Officer.

I ripped up the solidified plastic, scraped up the gooey traces that were still liquified, and generally cleaned the autoclave as best I could. Looks like everything will be okay, thankfully. And I kept a piece of the plastic foam as a fun memento.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Attention, charities that send me free address labels:

Much obliged for the lifetime supply! I think it's safe to stop sending them now, seriously.

Further refinement of Candy Corn Cookies

My friend Linda saw this post and decided to make her own candy corn cookies in two varieties. Being a wonderful person, she brought some of the results to church on Friday to share with me! So once again, here's real candy corn:

And here's Linda's candy corn. I definitely liked the look of them without nuts.

Little did Linda know that I had picked yesterday to fast on bread and tea (significantly easier than a bread and water fast-- you still get your caffeine fix, and of course tea requires lots of cream and sugar! Okay, St. Jean Vianney I'm not, but then I never claimed to be.) So her gift certainly enhanced the penitential nature of my ascetic practice, but that just made me look forward to today all the more. First thing I did when I got up today was photograph the cute little cookies.

"I wanted to use lemon extract for the yellow," Linda told me, "but I couldn't find any, so I used butter rum. My husband sat down and ate two dozen of them!"

Yikes, two dozen! I cannot imagine eating two dozen of these cookies in one sitting, mainly because Linda didn't give me quite that many. :) By the way, guess what I had for breakfast today?

(On a related note, whatever smugness I felt about my awesome Catholic desserts was just knocked out of me by a blogging mom and her cupcake rosary.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Then again, I'd look cute in any habit

And here is irrefutable evidence of that, kindly provided by Vincenzo in the last post's comments. Apparently this order's apostlate involves hangin' with the sisters, eating candy corn cookies, and blogging. I must admit it's growing on me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You're not supposed to pick a religious order by the habit

But I'm not joining this one, all right? Just forget it!

(Actually, I once talked to a priest about picking an order based on the habit, and he remarked, "St. Padre Pio joined the Capuchins because he wanted to grow a beard." So there you go!)

I was cleaning my keyboard without paying attention to what was happening on the computer screen

This was the result:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I think I'm called to be a seminarian

I have a friend who's a seminarian in Rome, and now and then I hear about the cool stuff he gets to see and do there. Today he emailed everybody with a link to this news photo.

"Besides the pope and the queen of Belgium," he wrote to us, "do you recognize someone else in the photo?"

Yup. That's our friend holding the candle!

I'm not jealous or anything.

Recipe for candy corn cookies

I've had two requests, so here's the recipe for the Candy Corn Cookies I just made. :)


2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla

3/4 tsp orange extract
About 1/4 tsp orange icing color (also called paste food color)
1 square (1 oz) unsweetened chocolate

In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar together till fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat till just combined. Slowly add flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Divide the dough into three more-or-less equal portions.

Line a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with waxed paper, leaving long edges so it can easily be folded over later. Cutting out the corners will make it a bit easier to line the pan.

To one portion of dough, add icing color until it's as orange as you want it. Add orange extract until it tastes as orange as you want it. Can you tell I didn't measure this part very precisely? :)

When I made this recipe I added 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts to the orange dough, but now I think we should leave that out-- it detracts from the smooth candy corn effect.

Melt the square of unsweetened chocolate and mix it into another portion of dough.

Spoon the chocolate dough into the lined loaf pan, and spread it out with a spoon until it's a fairly even layer. (It's a bit tricky because the wax paper slides around, but you'll get there.)

Smooth the orange dough on top of the chocolate dough, and then smooth the vanilla dough on top of that. Fold over the wax paper and chill the dough for at least an hour. Longer is better-- makes the dough firmer and easier to slice.

Lift the waxed paper to remove the dough from the pan. Cut the dough crosswise in pieces about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. It's nice if all the cookies on one sheet are about the same thickness, so they'll cook at the same rate.

Cut each rectangular piece into triangles. See the post below for pictures of all this. It's easiest to cut the dough on wax paper or parchment paper.

Lay the triangles on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 °F for about nine minutes. Bake time depends on how thick the cookies are, so if I were you I'd start watching carefully after eight minutes and take the cookies out as soon as there's any sign of edges turning brown.

It's best to let the cookies cool and harden before transferring them anywhere.


I adapted this recipe from one that my mom cut from a magazine eighteen years ago. Here's a picture of the original recipe, and these are the changes you want to make for the original Neapolitan cookies.

Instead of orange color and extract, add five drops of liquid red food coloring and 1/2 tsp almond extract to that portion of dough. It'll taste vaguely like strawberry.

Add 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts to the vanilla dough.

The chocolate dough is the same.

Layer the three doughs in a loaf pan with vanilla in the middle. Chill to firm. Then cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have two long rectangular blocks of dough. Cut each block crosswise into pieces 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Bake at 350 °F for about ten minutes. These cookies are rectangles instead of triangles.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Candy corn cookies

It's October and Halloween is coming up. Yes, All Hallows Eve, so named because it is the day before All Saints' Day. And you know what that means...


Yes! It has been too long (like, two whole weeks)! So here's what I made yesterday. I'll type up the recipe if anyone wants it; otherwise we'll just have pictures which you can always click for bigger versions. (UPDATE: recipe is here.)

First I assembled an intriguing cast of characters. (Ignore the cherry tomatoes. An unrelated recipe.)

Now just pause for a moment and meditate on how many of life's blessings begin with butter and sugar creamed together.

Adding some other stuff to the butter/sugar mix. Isn't it convenient that eggs are individually date-stamped now? All these great innovations; young people today don't appreciate it.

I added egg, flour, vanilla, salt, and baking powder to the dough.

I then divided it into three portions. One portion will be left plain.

Another gets put back into the mixer. I threw in some chopped walnuts.

Now for the most fun ingredient: food coloring. This is concentrated paste instead of liquid, so you can get intense color without watering down your recipe.

You can buy it at cake stores, arts and crafts stores, places like that. I got mine in orange. Looks like this.

I just used a toothpick to slap some on the dough.

And mixed it in.

And to get really fancy, orange extract. Not too much; just enough to make the eater wonder, "Does this orange part of the cookie actually taste orange, or am I imagining it?"

Mmmm... nice orange walnut dough.

Moving on now to CHOCOLATE. I switched to the last third of dough, melted a square of unsweetened chocolate, and mixed it in. Most rewarding.

The chocolate dough tasted so good that I was briefly tempted to just make a bunch of chocolately chocolate cookies.

But no, I'll stick to my plan. Here are my three kinds of dough. They make a lovely tableau. See where I'm going with this now?

Here's a pan for baking small loves of bread. I lined it with wax paper, cutting out the corners for convenience.

Then I threw the chocolate dough in there...

And spread it out.

The spreading out was hard, actually. It's much easier if you spoon out the dough in pieces, like I'm doing with the orange dough to spread it on top of the chocolate.

Vanilla dough goes on last.

Then fold over the wax paper and you have a lovely and most promising little package.

I chilled it for an hour or two in the fridge, then got it out along with some parchment paper and cookie sheets.

Here's my dough all wrapped up.

Let's unwrap it and cut a slice!

Now what can we do with this?

Slice it up into triangles, like the bodies of the apostles at the Last Supper! (Inside joke for blog readers.)

Repeat many times and lay out on cookie sheets.

Now you see where I was going with it. Little candy corn cookies, not much bigger than real candy corn. Behold the cuteness!

And here's the same sheet after baking for eight minutes.

Now that is adorable.

I turned over a couple so you could see the underside.

To concentrate the cuteness I stacked them in a cupcake box.

Closeup for quality inspection.

Oh yes. This is why I never lose any weight. CANDY CORN COOKIES!