Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cardamom Palmiers Part II

Rolled, sugared to within an inch of their life, cut and ready to go in the oven. They look like Michael's pinwheel cookies without the alternating colors. And elongated. And heavily sugared. I should have made those instead. They are time consuming too but probably more guaranteed to come out right. Because they are "Michael Cookies"!! I still can't replicate his version of toll house cookies. His is the best interpretation of that old standard. I did recently make an toll house cookie variation that the guys really loved. I sent them to Nick and his bunk mates loved 'em.

After fifteen minutes I took them out and damaged half of them turning them over. A non-stick pan would be best for this recipe. These are "carmelized cardamom palmiers"
and they carmelized right to the pan. I tried using a straight metal spatula, a straight plastic spatula, and a small off-set spatula. I heated it (the little spatula) with the kitchen torch (not just for creme brulee anymore) but it didn't make much difference. Lessons Learned: use an off-set spatula for flipping cookies. Always. Don't compromise.

Watching and waiting.

Watching and waiting to make sure they didn't burn. No, this was not a posed shot. The oven was hot and I stood in front of it with my little 3mp digital point and shoot and clicked away until I got the right image. (the little voice in my head says, sheesh, they're just cookies! it's not like this is grand art or anything)

(Everyone has a voice in their head; it's not like this is weird or anything)

They didn't burn, but they didn't brown up the way I thought they would, either. However, they were incredibly tasty
and we ate them all but I won't be making them again. By the way, the dough, as rolled, sugared and folded for the cookies, is NOT a good pie dough. It carmelizes to the pie pan the way the cookies carmelize to the cookie sheet. The only way to separate crust (and pie) from plate is to flip it over and pry it out. I know this because I tried. The result was that we didn't have pumpkin pie for The Thanksgiving Feast. We had Pumpkin Mousse Thing instead.

Gosh, I could sit here all morning doing this but sadly must shower - and then show up at work.

Coming Soon: "Who moved my cheese for the 112th time this year?!?" A frightening tale of home-office-swapping with Kent, and Erin's trip to Ikea.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cardamom Palmiers

For the record, I don't usually subject myself to difficult baking tasks but tonight I'm making palmiers. a.k.a. Elephant Ears. With cardamom-sugar instead of plain sugar. Thank for fine folks at Fine Cooking for that idea. I love this magazine. The food photography is to die for! The Winter issue has three basic cookie doughs from which you can make three different cookies each. This cookie base is cream cheese dough. Big lure. Geneen Roth would call it a beckoning food. One of the three recipes using this dough is the aforementioned palmiers.

I read the recipe. I read most of the recipe. Alright, I read the first column. Big deal. Make the dough. Chill the dough. Shape the dough. Fold the dough. Wait a minute. Chill it again? Ok, it's chilling now. I assumed the next paragraph, although long, was essentially "slice, bake, cool." What it really says: "slice, sprinkle, bake, SWAP top and bottom cookie sheets, TURN the cookies, sprinkle, bake, cool."

At least The Timpano was all prep. Once it made it into the oven we just had to tap it every once in a while to see if it made that great hollow sound. I like fussy prep. I don't like fussy cooking. First we hunted for the recipe and found it in a cookbook by Stanley Tucci's mother. Then we hunted for months looking for the perfect timpano pan which was more of a large enameled basin. You have to know that the search was part of the fun.

The Timpano requires a gross of ziti, a bunch of boiled eggs, lots and lots of homemade teaspoon-diameter meatballs, three-meat sauce, and a pasta-like pastry. The meatballs and the sauce have their own recipes, so you end up working from three recipes. We made this thing a few years ago and haven't made it since. It was great fun. And as in the movie, it took two of us to load it into and unload it out of the oven. We still use the sauce recipe, though, because it is really outstanding. So are the meatballs.

Palmiers are fussy prep and fussy cooking. I'm already into the second chill so I may as well go for the last eight steps too. I think cardamom is one of the nicest spices so I'm sure these will taste great but it might be the last time I make them. We'll see.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Taking a "Personal Day" today

For absolutey no reason whatsoever except that I can. Nya nya nya.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Manager & The Performance Strategy

Once upon a time there was a Manager who was required by Human Resources to comply with a performance management process. The Manager, who valued his job, was willing to do this. He attended training sessions, and was shown how to write SMART goals, measure success, and rate his employees on a three point scale for performance and behavior: Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, and Does Not Meet Expectations. The Manager was familiar with the strategy, having employed similar strategies in a previous company. The Manager complied, had regular meetings with his employees to discuss performance and behavior, and his employees knew what to expect when merit increases and incentive bonuses were distributed once a year.

And so it went for three years. Some of the finer details of the performance strategy changed, but by and large it remained the same. Most employees met their goals, a few employees exceeded their goals, and a couple employees did not meet their goals. According to Human Resources, there was a Predictable Distribution: of all employees, 70% met their goals, 10% exceeded their goals, and 20% did not meet their goals. Look for this distribution, Human Resources said, and use it as a Guide. If there are
a lot of employees who exceed their goals, maybe the goals weren't stiff enough, so it was important to make sure the goals were well written.

Near the end of the fourth year several Managers met and listed all their employees ion a sheet of paper. The Managers ranked each employee from highest performing to lowest performing. There was much discussion. Managers hated this yearly task.

When they were finished and felt comfortable that all the employees were ranked correctly, the Managers sent the list to the managers a level above themselves. The new set of managers incorporated the list into their own and rolled the list up to the next level of managers. This went on until the list reached to top of the department.

The Big Manager looked at the list and said "12% of these employees exceeded their goals. That just can't be. That violates the 10% guide. The employee in the lowest spots of the 12% will be forced into a lower ranking." And so it was.

Then the Big Manager said, "Now there 74% of our employees have met their goals this year. That just can't be. That violates the 70% rule. The employees in the lowest spots of the 74% will be forced into a lower ranking." And so it was.

The Big Manager looked at the list with it's neat, tidy, predictable performance distribution, and said, "Roll this final list down to all the managers to communicate to their employees." And so they did.

The Manager (remember him?) looked at the list and sat heavily in his not-quite ergonomic office chair with the adjustable lower-back support. He saw that one employee he'd given a rating of Meets Expectations for performance, and Exceeds Expectations for behavior, had been bumped down to Meets Expectations for behavior. Another employee he'd given a rating of Meets Expectations for performance and behavior had been bumped down to a Does Not Meet expectations for performance and behavior.

The Manager cried foul. "This employee is a perfectly good employee and his performance and behavior is well within the 'meets expectations' for his role and time on the job." The manager knew that merit increases and incentive bonuses were calculated on the ratings and the ranking. Neither employee would received the recognition they deserved for a job done well.

The Manager did not live happily ever after. In fact, the Manager lost all faith in what should have been a fair system of performance-based recognition. But then, the Manager is naive in the ways of The Big Manager, and hopelessly idealistic.

The End.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pumpkin Pie Blizzard

I've just returned from Dairy Queen and made the following conclusion: the Pumpkin Pie Blizzard is fabulous!!!!! Pumpkin pie filling and crust swirled in vanilla softserve ice cream. It's a keeper. Now if only the service was better...

Monday, November 07, 2005

The House Thing Again

Now that I'm not in pain all the time, I wouldn't mind sticking around in this house for awhile. Not forever, just awhile. Longer than a few more years, I think. Although...boy oh boy, talk about flip flopping! Ok, I know, completely contrary to what I said a few posts back about not wanting to live in old houses ever again. Well, hang's not contrary because I won't move to another old house, just stay in this one a little longer. There's too much to do anyway. Besides, when we finally remodel the kitchen I want to have time to really enjoy it.

Anyway. This last spring we completely cleared out the front garden bed. To see if we got everything, we kept it empty for the summer. Sure enough, we did get everything! Credit goes to Patrick and Nick for their outstanding effort.

Today we picked up 25 bags of hardwood mulch, 18 garden mums (yellow: 12 pincushion and 6 daisy types) and 30 mixed but mostly pink/purple/blue pansies. We should have gotten about 30 more. It's a very large bed. Amongst all of it we'll plant Lamb's Ear and more Hosta which we haven't gotten yet. I'd like to plant Lenten Rose, too, if we can find it. Patrick laid in the first ten bags of mulch, and I've placed the plants. However, it's just too dark to do the rest of the mulch and plant the goodies. So, I'll do a few plants each morning so they don't all dry out.

When it's all done I'll post a picture
(updated 10/6/2006: which obviously I did not do).

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

You're right, too long since the last post.

Gee, finally getting to my email and what do I see? Mom, chastising me for not posting often enough. She's right!!! Thank you, Mother :)

Nick is into his own life now. We had a wonderful visit with him during Basic Training Graduation. He was so excited to be able to buy things with money he earned that he picked up a new CD player and a PSP, which is a cool little gadget. He's off to Fort Gordon for 29 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in his field: signal networks, aka communications. He'll be one of the guys who supports the communications gear, the signal for walkie-talkies, wireless data transmission, satellite communicates, stuff like that. For those who understand the MOS system, he's in 25U. Here's a link that describes those duties: Fort Gordon is located on the Georgia/South Carolina border, it's the gray smudge just outside of Augusta. I-20 is the freeway that rolls by. If he golfed, he'd be in hog heaven. Who knows? Maybe he'll learn? Nah, won't happen; no joysticks involved.

He called this weekend to say he'd be home for Christmas for two weeks. He bought his plane ticket today and couldn't wait to tell us! I'll share his mailing address when I receive it later this week. His friend, Nick (a.k.a. Redgate Nick), moved a few blocks away and is within easy walking distance and he's excited about that. Redgate Nick got him his first job at Luna Maya Restaurant. Our Nick has since left, but Redgate Nick is head chef now and he's so thrilled and scared. He is "Redgate Nick" because he lived on Redgate Avenue and we kept getting confused - the possessive pronouns didn't always point to the right character, and otherwise it's just awkward to say or write. We have to call him Michigan Nick now, though, because he lives on Michigan Ave. Which doesn't make sense in Colonial Place where the streets are named after the first thirteen and a couple of important sea captains, of whom Michigan was not one, I'm sure. I don't think we'll really be able to break the habit of calling him Redgate Nick, though, because we've been doing that for a few years now. He shall always be...Redgate Nick.

My management changed at work so I have a new boss who has been keeping me really busy. He's an entirely different character than my former boss and that's mostly a good thing but he has pretty high expectations that are welcome but we're out of practice. I'm having a blast with my photography and I'm getting better but I'm behind on scanning and sharing so I hope to catch up on that this weekend.

Kent is involved in a local production of Don Quixote, abridged. It's supposed to be an "artistic interpretation" of the traditional story that the director was writing at the time of the first rehearsal; Kent isn't so keen on the interpretation. A Don Quixote scholar, in Germany, is long-distance coaching the director and reviewing the script as it's being written. Kent is in a supporting role (a good thing since he's still working on his Master's degree). Rehearsals are most nights and the show opens the week before Thanksgiving. School is mostly interesting but the fun part is some robotics activity that Kent is involved in. I don't understand all the details but when I do I'll share!

Patrick is rowing six days a week: qualifying for his first level of master skuller (or whatever it's called) in a single, coxing for the women's eight on Saturday's for Hampton Roads Rowing Club, weekdays rowing with Maury High School's men's four because Norview High, where he attends, doesn't have a rowing club, and having fun little races with his coach, James. He's really hooked on this stuff, is exhausted by 7:30pm, and has a permanent sparkle in his eyes. I'm pretty sure that last is because of the rowing, as opposed to drugs. He doesn't have time for them! Last weekend was the big fall race, Head of the Lafayette. I have video, I'm editing, I will share.

That's it on the home front, and I promised Mom I'd post this last night which I didn't so I will this morning and hope she'll forgive me :)

Oh ya. Here's another photo from Fort Benning. Apparently some French battalion had as their maschot a dachsund. "We're so confident in our manhood we'll have little dachshund as our maschot and display him with pride!" (You must, must say this with a Frenglish accent, please.)