Archive for the 'Memories' Category

Vegan Meringue “Wasps Nest” Cookies

chickpeasI was listening to All Things Considered and I overheard a chef discussing vegan cooking. One question piqued my interest: “What do you use for eggs?”

“Aquafaba,” is the answer, “Chickpea juice from canned garbanzo beans is a direct substitute for egg whites.”

My adult nephew is currently vegan, and one family holiday favorite was a meringue cookie that I’ve made since childhood. Here’s the story behind those (indented so you can jump to the recipe if you are so inclined).

In my family, we celebrated the four Sundays before Christmas as Advents. This meant family gathered for some special light meal (latkes, or fondue, smorgasbord, etc) followed by special goodies: Imported German cookies (“Pfefferkuchen”), home made special seasonal treats, etc. My German mother used traditional recipes from an old cookbook. Not only in German (and thus requiring a gram scale) but printed in German Gothic script.

Many of these rich recipes used an excess of egg yolks. My mother, having been raised in an economy significantly worse than the U.S. Great Depression, hated to waste anything. So she found a recipe for meringue cookies to use up the egg whites. They were slightly chocolate and filled with almonds, and named Wespeneste (Wasp’s Nests) for their resemblance to the spiky, papery, chunk-filled objects.

So these not-at-all holiday-esque cookies became a holiday tradition.

So here is the Vegan (and gluten-free) variation on this recipe:

  • 1 Can Aquafaba: Juice from 1 can of chick peas (approx. 2/3 to 3/4 cup)
  • 1c sugar (cane, beet, coconut, whatever)
  • 1/3 c cocoa (more or less)
  • 3/4 c toasted almond slivers (or chopped roasted almonds)
  1. img_3360Whip the aquafaba to soft peaks, preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Slowly add sugar while whipping
  3. Sift in cocoa while mixing slower (slower to prevent clouds of cocoa covering the counter and causing coughs)
  4. Continue whipping to firmer peaks.
  5. Fold in almonds
  6. img_3366Spoon onto silicone pad, aluminum foil, or parchment on a cookie sheet. Anything oven safe and peelable.
  7. Place in oven, multiple racks any location.
  8. Turn oven down to 225 (note: Assumes gas oven; electric may be fine to turn off, INRS)
  9. Leave in for an hour (less for chewy centers, more for what my little brother calls “‘Splosion cookies.”) These are meringues; the oven is not so much to bake as to dehydrate.

The firmer the peaks when whipping, the more the cookies will hold their shape. Also, this temperature combination sets the outer shape and then lets the interior settle, leaving a hollow area. It makes them more fun that solid meringues.

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But here I am with a can of beans. Now what? The answer came to me:
Vegan, Gluten Free Ginger Cookies

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What’s a Chick Pea?

chickpeasThis and the following two posts are about a legume. First, a minor reminiscence. Then a couple of unexpected cookie recipes. Basically three posts in which The Object at Hand amounts to just a can of beans.

Back in 1970 my parents took us kids to visit our grandmothers for the first time. We were living in familial isolation in the middle of the U.S. and my two grandmothers were in northern Europe and the Middle East. This story originated at the southern branch of the family.

One food that was new to my mother and us kids was “tahina hatzelem” (my best guess at spelling a foreign phrase I hadn’t heard since childhood.) It was decades later that I learned that in the U.S. this sesame and eggplant paste is known by its Arabic name: “Baba ganoush.”

But back in 1970: We had returned home and my mother wanted to make it. She had no trouble finding the eggplant and sesame paste. But it took her weeks of trolling all the grocery stores to find chick peas. She would search the aisles, and then ask someone. No one seemed to have ever heard of chick peas. Until she went to one smaller market, and a stock boy with an Spanish accent (near as my German accented mother could tell) overheard her ask the manager. After the manager said they didn’t have them, the stock boy suggested that she ask for “Garbanzo Beans.” The manager lit up, and told her where to find them. My mother was both amused and appalled at the absurd name; she felt that foods should have polite and respectable names.

But every summer from then until I moved out (and probably after that) my mother would make a batch of this yummy dip, liberally topped with paprika. This is my earliest association with the Garbanzo.

Recipe 1: Vegan Meringue Wasps Nests

Recipe 2: Vegan, Gluten Free Ginger Cookies

In the Thick of it

Embossed Card

How many of you remember those old, carbon-paper credit card receipt machines? Revel in the solid “Ka-chunk chunk” sound as the cashier strained to run the slider back and forth, and the waste can full of booklets of carbon paper pulled from the right side of the sandwich of receipts. As a kid I was allowed to take some of those carbons home from stores, to play with fingerprints, and to use for stenciling. Back then, folks didn’t worry so much about identity theft.

But have you even seen one of those machines in the last decade?

Today’s Object at Hand is a new debit card, complete not only with a magnetic strip (tech from the 1970’s) but also a somewhat secure chip (based on the late 1990’s tech now considered obsolete in Europe). And, what is this? It still has the 1950’s legacy support of embossed information! Why, you may well ask, do I make a point of this?

I like a thin wallet. The embossing increases the thickness of each card by 50%, and the friction to drag it out of a wallet pocket by noticeably more than that. It wears out the pocket or adjacent cards faster, as well as frustrating the user when too many get packed in there. And it serves no (expletive) purpose. Well, little potential purpose.

Had I a flat card, and needed to purchase from some Luddite (who also does not take cash, or checks, and has neither the free stripe reader or the cheap chip reader available to anyone with a smart phone), they would be forced to hand write my name and card number on their multi-part receipt form. I’d happily do it for them.

Fortunately, I could walk in to my bank and get a flat version of the card this morning. All the same information at 66% of the thickness. Happy ending 🙂

Looking Back

Rear View Mirror

On reflection, today’s object is an intro to one of my hobbies.

I was slowly walking home from breakfast at the corner when I spied today’s Object at Hand in the street. A plastic rear view mirror from some toy vehicle that had come loose and been run over a time or two.

I was walking slowly because of a lingering disease. Adult onset mono that had been misdiagnosed by a series of doctors who never considered that an old dude like me would come down with such a stereotypical adolescent ailment. Anyway, a couple of months after the symptoms got acute, I could walk to the corner.

As soon as I saw this bit of plastic with its evocative printed decal, I flashed on a lifetime of travels. I began a travel blog back before most people knew the word “blog,” and wrote the code using Notepad. Before the blog, I would send emails to a list of friends with daily reports. Here is My Travel Page.

I didn’t always love travel. As a child, I was always car sick. Back then we didn’t have air conditioning. During my tween and teen years, we didn’t even have rear windows in the car! So it was an ordeal for myself and my parents to go on the few road trips they dared: Once to Orlando (not including Disney, but backstage at Cape Kennedy as Apollo 13 was on the pad) and once up to Michigan to visit a great aunt. Plus an annual jaunt of 8 hours (back in those pre-interstate days) down to the Ozarks. Specifically Bull Shoals Lake just over the Arkansas border. Nope, not Silver Dollar City. I didn’t get to an amusement park until I was in my 30’s.

But once I had a car of my own, we did drive. In our current sedan we have recreationally visited every contiguous state except Rhode Island and Wisconsin. We often travel the lesser roads, state and local highways. It takes longer to get to our nominal destination, but we really get to see America.

Paper Springs

Napkin Trash

Today’s object is one I compulsively make and leave behind in restaurants. I fold those paper napkin wrappers into these square paper springs out of old habit.

I learned how to fold these from construction paper in third or fourth grade, as a device to make greeting cards more dimensional, to elevate a cut-out shape above the field.

Tractor FeedBut it became a fidget-habit when I started working in the real world. We had dot matrix computer printers back then. They were noisy, and the folded continuous paper had to be fed from a box using perforations designed to fit tractor cogs on the printer, usually on micro-perforated separable strips. So after printing what had to be printed, we would remove that side strip with the holes.

I am a fidgetor. My hands are rarely at rest when my mind is moving. So given this bounty of paper strips, I would fold them into long paper springs and leave them everywhere.

I remember one meeting in the start-up robotics company for which I was working in the 1980’s. One of the members brought in her little girl. The wean picked up one of my foot-long springs and was happily playing with it. This was memorable to me as the first time I’d seen anyone but myself derive pleasure from my little compulsion. The mother told her that she should put “that man’s” paper down. I assured them that I was happy to let her have that one.

Three decades later, when these tractor feed strips are rare, I find myself folding napkin wrappers into these springs, and now admitting my bad habit. I secretly hope that some server or bus-person notices the odd nature of this minimalist origami as art, rather than just another piece of trash. But I am not holding my breath.

Fuzzy mice

I recall an article in Byte magazine (I think) by Jerry Pournelle (perhaps) back in the mid 1980’s about his adventure when his son lost the IBM mouse ball at the mall. Back then, there was no internet, few electronics stores, and even Computer Shopper was a thin monthly magazine with few aftermarket parts. So he finally got a replacement mouse from IBM, because no one could be found to provide a simple rubber ball of just the right size and weight.

Anyway, I thought of it when my current mouse, a 13 year old Logitech Mx510 optical mouse, lost the ability to wheel down. Back in the ball-mouse days, one had to clean the rollers regularly. But the optical mouse is nearly sealed, and has few moving parts. But Google agreed that the likely problem was dirt.  In over a decade, enough dust (crumbs, skin) did filter in through the wheel-side slots to block the sensor.

So here is today’s Object at Hand, the fuzzy internal workings of the scroll wheel.

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Light passes through the spokes (when clean) and tells the processor which way and how far it turns. There are several loose parts in this assembly, and it took me a little while to get them back in the right order after I pulled the tiny carpets of fuzz from many tight internal surfaces.

But back together it went.

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And back to work.

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United Past

The Object at Hand for today caught my imagination at a moving sale, as a perfect hook to write about a few things. I present for for your amusement (or at least my own), a common corporate giveaway item  from the 1960’s: A United Airlines pocket knife.

United Knife

United Knife UnfoldsNow in the post-911 world of confiscating suspicious nail clippers, examining everyone’s shoes, and forbidding shampoo bottles, it seems hilarious that airlines once armed its passengers in this way. The blade in this is just 1½ inches in length, and was considered safe enough for airlines to distribute to passengers during the frequent hijacking era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I dated the knife by the logo: United changed its letterhead regularly. This knife had to be produced between 1961 and 1974.

History of United Logos

History of United Logos

Possession of knives was so casual in 1970 (when I was nine) that two aunts each gave me pocket knives for Christmas, at my grandmother’s house in Berlin. We then flew to Tel Aviv to visit my other grandmother, where I lost one of my new knives in the sand at the beach. No one thought anything about those 3″ blades in my carry on bag during any of the seven air legs of that trip.

Aside: I remember lugging my carry on up those rolling stairways into a variety of planes on that trip: 727’s between Germany, Israel, and Greece, and JFK to StL; 707’s across the Atlantic; and the short steps up into a DC-3 from Eilat on the Red Sea back to Tel Aviv. There was a caged chicken in the overhead rack next to the barely caged fan on the DC-3 flight. We’d taken the bus down, to tour the sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a few other sites for separating tourists from dollars.

In that more innocent era, there were no metal detectors or enclosed jet ways, and family greeted us right at the plane in Israel, and at the gates in Berlin. In New York I recall a cheerful porter racing us through JFK from international to a United gate to barely catch our flight, because the scheduled 3 hour layover became 15 minutes due to traffic control issues in those days before weather satellites, computer flight tracking, and automated approach beacons.

All these glancing observations evoked by spotting this little knife in a pile of cast off minutia at a moving sale.