Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas vacation.

Today is Christmas Day, and while I don't personally celebrate the holiday anymore, I know that a lot of my readers do. And by Christmas night, I think we're all feeling a little like Santa here.

So hearth/myth is taking a break this week. Have a good nap by the fire -- with a cat on your lap, if you can swing it -- and I'll see you in 2017.

These moments of holiday-induced blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happy gluten-free holidays, part two.

Clockwise from lower left: spiced nuts, lemon-poppyseed cookies,
chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, almond horns, peppermint bark,
raspberry bars. Fudge is in the fridge and meringue cookies are in
the oven.
This year's holiday prep is winding down at La Casa Cantwell. I finished the shopping yesterday, and the baking today.

Now don't put out a contract on me -- I'm not as far ahead as you might think. After all, Yule is Wednesday. And tomorrow is my last day of work before Christmas, which meant the baking had to get done today so I could deliver treats tomorrow.

I've always been old school about baking. I've never had a fancy stand mixer, preferring instead to use a pastry blender for creaming butter and sugar, and a wire whisk for beating eggs. I've even been known to sink my fingers into a stiff cookie dough in order to work in the chocolate chips. It seemed like cheating to use a power tool for the job, when I could get in an upper-body workout by baking.

But this year, I ran short of time, and had to do a bunch of the treat-making today. So I resorted to the mixer for some tasks I usually do by hand. It turns out that you really do need to have room-temperature butter if you're going to try to cream in the sugar with a hand mixer; the mixer only has so much oomph. Lesson learned.

Anyway, about the gluten-free treats: Because I'm making these mostly as gifts for the attorneys I assist, I've steered clear of most recipe adaptations. I don't use Splenda or stevia in place of sugar; I use sticks of butter instead of soft margarine; and I have yet to substitute regular flour for gluten-free. But as I said last week, some of the things I've been making are GF anyway.

Take, for example, the peppermint bark in the photo above. It's white and dark chocolate with a little flavoring and some crushed candy canes on top. I got the recipe from a simple-living bulletin board; the woman who developed it said she saw Williams-Sonoma selling the stuff for $18/lb. and realized she could make it for a lot less.

When I first started making it, I used chocolate breakup -- blocks of Ghirardelli white and dark chocolate -- which Trader Joe's sold cheap. Then Ghirardelli discontinued the product and started selling their own peppermint bark, which is okay, but not as good as mine (and I'm not the only one who thinks so). We passed a dreary, dismal holiday season with no homemade peppermint bark. But then I discovered the Ghirardelli folks sold what they call melting wafers that work pretty well as a replacement for the old chocolate breakup. Of course, the wafers are a lot more expensive. This is what passes for progress in our day and age.

Anyway, here's the recipe.

Peppermint Bark

1 10 oz. bag dark chocolate melting wafers
1 10 oz. bag white chocolate melting wafers
A few drops of peppermint extract
Candy canes or starlight mints

Line a cookie sheet (I use an 11" x 17" sheet) with aluminum foil. Melt the dark chocolate wafers in the microwave according to package directions. Stir the peppermint extract into the melted chocolate, and spread the mixture in the pan. Let sit 'til it hardens.

While you're waiting, place the candy canes or starlight mints in a heavy-duty zipper bag and crush them (I used the bottom of a coffee mug today, but whatever works). Then melt the white chocolate in the microwave according to package directions. Spread the white chocolate over the dark chocolate in the pan, sprinkle the candy cane pieces on top (push them down with your fingers, if you want), and allow to cool and harden. Break into random-sized pieces.

Enjoy! Happy holidays!

These moments of candylicious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Happy gluten-free holidays, part one.

It's beginning to look a lot like Yule here at La Casa Cantwell. Kitty and I picked up the tree today. It's a Fraser fir, between three and four feet tall. It's so short that our old tree stand would have gobbled up about a third of it, so I bought a new stand, too. The nice young man at the tree lot even put the tree in the stand for us. All we had to do when we got home was take it upstairs and set it on the coffee table.

The good thing about a little tree is that it takes no time at all to decorate; I even put on the lights by myself. The bad thing is when you realize you've collected enough ornaments over the years to decorate a ten-foot tree, but you only have a little tree to hang them on. A whole lot of ornaments got left in the box this year, but all of the most important ones made it on the tree -- including our 2016 dumpster fire.

I heard that: "You just need to set up another tree!" Feel free to come over to my apartment with that second tree and find a place to put it.

Anyway, the next step in the festivities (besides shopping and wrapping gifts and attending fun parties) is making cookies and other treats, which is what I'll be doing next weekend. I've always made cookies, but over the past few years, several folks I know have developed a sensitivity to gluten, including my daughter Amy. So these days, I include gluten-free treats in my repertoire.

Luckily, it's not difficult -- and it turns out I'd been making some anyway. Here's one that's always a hit, and it's really easy to make. The toughest part is paying for the pecan halves (they ain't as cheap as they used to be).

I got the recipe from the Washington Post in 2002. (Apologies if there's a paywall.) I've edited their recipe a little; for one thing, the original says to use a large bowl for the sugars and a medium-size bowl for the nuts and whipped egg white, which seems backward to me. Anyway, here you go. Enjoy.

Spiced Frosted Nuts

Butter or nonstick spray oil for the baking sheet
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound (about 4 1/4 cups) pecan or walnut halves (note: I always use pecans)

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with butter or oil.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugars and cinnamon until well blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg white and salt until foamy. Add the nuts and toss until each nut is completely coated.

Add the sugar mixture to the nut mixture and stir until each nut is completely coated. Turn the nuts onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading to form an even layer. Bake the nuts, stirring well every 10 minutes, until crisp and dry, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir again and transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Pack in an airtight container. Store for up to a week at room temperature or for up to a month in the fridge.

This claims to make about 16 servings, but I find that highly suspect. You might want to double the recipe -- but if you do, use two baking sheets.

These moments of spicy-sweet, nutty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Good journalism requires audience participation.

Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline received good news today. The U.S. Department of the Army announced it was denying the permit to build the section of pipeline that would have crossed the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The fight isn't over, but still, this is a huge win for the thousands of Native people, and their allies, who have opposed the project.

This story has been covered much more thoroughly on social media than by mainstream media, for a number of reasons. For starters, news organizations have been doing more with less for at least twenty years. One of the reasons I got out of the news business in 1998 was that I was tired of getting laid off every couple of years. News organizations kept consolidating, cutting personnel and even whole bureaus, in an effort to make more money for shareholders. And so here we are today: There aren't enough bodies left to cover everything that deserves to be covered. If you've wondered why Donald Trump's Twitter rants get more attention than the Dakota Access Pipeline, that's the reason. It's much cheaper to have an intern sit in an office and monitor Twitter than it is to send a microwave truck, an engineer, a producer, a camera operator and a reporter to the back end of nowhere to take pictures of Indians dancing in front of cops in riot gear.

I'm not denigrating the water protectors; I'm on their side. What I'm trying to do is explain what goes through news executives' minds when they decide what to spend their scarce resources on. Trump's Twitter feed = guaranteed story. Sending a crew to North Dakota for weeks in hopes of "war" footage, not so much.

So it didn't surprise me that CNN, et al., didn't start sending crews to the Oceti Sakowin camp until last week. It was clear things were coming to a head: The Army Corps of Engineers had announced the "protesters" needed to move, the governor of North Dakota was threatening to send in troops to clear the area (although he said later that was just a misunderstanding), and a cadre of volunteer veterans was due to arrive.

As soon as pictures began showing up on the networks, people could see that something was off. The sheriff of Morton County, ND, kept saying that his officers felt threatened by the Sioux, but the photos and videos from the site showed armor-plated police vehicles looming over unarmed people praying. 

More than one person has criticized those media reports, saying the journalists weren't doing their jobs.

Well, actually, they were.

Bear with me while I digress. In 1954, a U.S. senator named Joseph McCarthy made a name for himself by accusing anyone he didn't like of being a Communist. First, he claimed more than 200 Communists had infiltrated the State Department -- a claim he couldn't substantiate. Nevertheless, he was awarded the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Government Operations in 1952, and used it as a bully pulpit to ruin hundreds of people, including many working in the film industry.

Edward R. Murrow | Wikipedia (Public Domain)
Television was his downfall. In March 1954, Edward R. Murrow devoted an entire episode of "See It Now" to McCarthy, eviscerating the senator by showing his methods in detail. Predictably, McCarthy attacked Murrow, accusing him of being a Communist -- a charge Murrow easily refuted. (George Clooney directed a terrific movie about Murrow's battle with McCarthy called "Good Night and Good Luck".) Shortly thereafter, an attorney named Joe Welch took on McCarthy in his own committee chamber, asking him on live television, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" At that point, McCarthy's name was mud. 

What the big-name news organizations at the Oceti Sakowin camp have been doing for the past few days is exactly the same thing Murrow did to McCarthy: they've given the cops just enough rope to hang themselves with. 

Journalists are supposed to report on all sides of an issue. The sheriff's statements were news; so were the protests. But it was no accident that reporters were reading the sheriff's inflammatory words over video of what was actually happening at the camp. As news consumers, we're supposed to make the connection ourselves.

These moments of newsy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.