Thing 3’s Cookies

Thing 3 has been demanding double chocolate chip cookies. Since I’m at home with Things 1 and 2 today pretending to be a domestic goddess (not), I thought I’d try to take care of that. After looking through a bunch of recipes on the internet–the font of all culinary knowledge–and not finding what I was after, I decided to make up my own. I’m quite happy with how they turned out, so I thought I’d share the recipe. They aren’t dramatically different from the basic chocolate toll-house, but I changed some of the standard ingredients to make the flavor richer and bring out the cocoa.


2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cups cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons course salt (I use sea salt, but NaCl is NaCl. Its the texture that matters.)

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks


Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. In a large bowl cream together the butter, sugar, and almond extract. Add the eggs one at a time. After both eggs are mixed in, gradually add in the dry mixture. Mix thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop dough by tablespoon-fulls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Be sure to leave plenty of room between them. Cook at 350 degrees for 16 minutes (smaller cookies will take less time). They are done when they are dry around the edges, but still fairly gooey in the middle. Pull them out, let them cool for a bit (they’ll set up a little bit more, but will stay nice and chewy), and enjoy.


Zen Poems for Lent

A few weeks ago I went used bookstoring with Rich and the kids. Tucked away on a poetry shelf haphazardly stuffed between Ogden Nash and T. S. Eliot I found a book called Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane’s Bill.1

In this poetic tradition, poems are a kind of a last rite; a Zen master writes a death poem, or a series of death poems, when he knows he is about to die. The striking thing about them, though, is that they all express an overwhelming sense of peace. For example,

Lifting hands, I climb the South Star,
Then turn to lean against the North.
Step beyond the sky, look--
Where is there another like myself? (22)

is an expression of wonder, freedom, and joy from a 9th-century Chinese master. There’s nothing morbid or sentimental here.

The sartori, or enlightenment, poems are also fascinating and edifying. These poems are written to express a Truth hit upon in a single moment of contact with the Divine. This contact allows the student to see God all around him, even in the most mundane of objects and circumstances.

How can I tell what I've seen?
Fall, stand–it's clear at once.
Wearing my cowl backwards, I
Trample the old path. And the new. (50)

There I was, hunched over office desk,
Mind an unruffled pool.
A thunderbolt! My middle eye
Shot wide, revealing–my ordinary self. (14)

Obviously, the Zen understanding of the Divine is very different from the Christian understanding of God, but even so I find the spirituality of these poems compelling because of their quest for peace and their understanding of an omni-present Divine.

I’m going to show my heretical tendencies again, but I happen to believe that God is rather more mature than your average middle-schooler; when Jesus says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks fines, and to the one who knocks it will be opened,” he doesn’t imply, “assuming that you come from the right continent and intellectual tradition.”2 “Everyone” means everyone. So when genuine, devout men seek God (even from outside Judeo-Hellenist cultures), he answers them; their findings and experiences have value for all devout people.

For me, these poems exude peace, something I desperately need. The peace in them comes from a radical acceptance of the uncertainty and transience of life as not just unavoidable, but a part of its beauty. They also remind me of an understanding of God’s immediacy that I had as a child, but now—and I deeply regret this—only comes in fits and fleeting moments. I’ve loved reading these poems because they help me to remember, and in remembering to reclaim, what it is like to be blown away by God’s presence in the beauty and audacity of a blade of grass.


1 Lucein Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto trans. with Tiagan Takayama. Grove Press, New York 1973. I’ll use parenthetical references for page numbers throughout the post.

2 Matthew 7:7-8, ESV

Emacs 24

So this morning I took the plunge and upgraded to Emacs 24 on my laptop. I tried that last night on my Windows 7 machine and it was a complete disaster; it totally broke everything. Not that that is really anything to be surprised about; setting up any flavor or version of emacs on a Windows machine is a true PITA. Heck, Windows generally is a PITA, we only got that machine for Netflix and keep the install because I work on a CMS that is only compatible with Internet Explorer. Anyway, I figured it would be a bit easier on linux, but I was not prepared to install the package, run it, and have it just work. Pretty amazing.

A couple of the big interface changes aren’t up and running with my old config files, but evil, twittering, and gnus all work with no problems.1 I haven’t tried AucTeX or magit yet—those are kind of the backbone of my dissertation work-flow, so they have to work as well—but I am optimistic.


1 One of the huge problems on the Windows machine is that I couldn’t get evil to work properly. That’s a complete deal-breaker because I can’t function without my beloved vim keybindings.


I read a fascinating blog post about Lent this morning (linkey linkey here). The author suggests that we should think about Lent as a time of focusing on what we need achieve virtue, which she defines as “the mean between two extremes” after Thomas Aquinas. She is mostly concerned with women who are self-destructive with their need to give things up—but her basic point is widely applicable.

Continue reading

Quote of the day

From the introduction to Genesis in the Stone translation of the Hebrew Bible (this is about as close to a Jewish devotional Bible as it gets.)

There are two kinds of creation. There is a creation of mountains and valleys, of solar systems and brain cells — and there is the creation of the people who give meaning and purpose to the universe they inhabit… Choice, winnowing and tests are primary themes of Genesis. The universe is a mixture of good and evil, and it is the responsibility of each individual, in his or her own life, to choose the good and spurn the evil.

Little Things

I designed a sweater while I was in the shower. Usually early morning knitting design, at least for me, is a rather vague affair with elements floating around in my head and re-arranging themselves like paper dolls’ clothes or Mr. Potato Head’s features. This was not the case yesterday. The image I came up with was pretty darn clear with colors, design elements, shaping, and the yarn all just there. Continue reading


Okay, I admit it. I am officially a knitting heretic. My crime: I find that apogee of complicated color-work knitting, the sangraal, the you-know-you’re-hardcore-if-you-knit-it sweater, the "Mary Tudor" rather tacky. Yes, that’s right. Tacky. [Sigh] I know that I will be banished into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for this, but I found most of the Tudor Roses collection disappointing.

I initially ordered Tudor Roses because I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can’t look myself in the mirror if I don’t knit myself a sweater of great awesomeness. Complex lace shawls? I design my own. Socks with esoteric heel/toe shaping? I laugh at them. Sweaters? OMG you mean my gauge has to be accurate and I actually have to decide what I’m doing before I cast on?!?!?!?!?1 However, I learned to knit so that I could have cool sweaters, so damn it, I’m going to knit a cool sweater. Why not start with the most awesomely awesome sweater imaginable? I’ve been on a color-work kick lately, and everybody knows that Starmore is the queen of color-work and that "Mary Tudor" is her masterpiece. If it weren’t’ then why would knitters be willing to pay hundred’s of dollars on EBay to get the pattern and the yarn? I ordered the book with very high hopes. Perhaps it was just because I’d built it up in my head too much, but when I finally got to sit down and really look at my illicitly interlibraryloaned copy, I was seriously underwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Alice Starmore—I’m not that degenerate. I own Fair Isle Knitting and Aran Knitting and they are both fabulous, especially as reference books. When I’m having a bad day I just sit myself down and have a good drool over the charts and life magically gets much better. The section on steeking in Fair Isle Knitting is lovely. Starmore makes it seem so clear, and so easy, and so "That looks so exciting that I’m going to have to get over my phobia of knitting things that have to fit just so I can do some steeking."

Tudor Roses, however, is not Starmore at her best. She takes the Fair Isle concepts of color changes and applies them to patterns that have a lot of solid areas. In traditional Fair Isle patterns the nature of the patterning helps to underplay the horizontal stripe effect. These patterns, however, don’t have the diagonal emphasis that makes traditional Fair Isle work, so instead of a subtle interplay of color to create a coherent whole, the effect is rather more "LOOK AT ME! I’M A REALLY COMPLICATED COLOR-WORK SWEATER!" especially since the colors she uses are bright and high-contrast to make the foreground show up against the very busy backgrounds.

"Henry VIII" is the only color-work pattern in the collection that I would knit without major alterations. When Mr. Moose saw it he subtlety hinted that he’d like one. By subtle, I mean he said, "Wow! that is a cool sweater. You know, you could knit one of those for me if you want." He’s not yet earned his black-belt in subtly, but he tries. "Catherine of Aragon" is the best candidate for me, but I’d use a variegated yarn for the background instead of all the color stripes to make the contrast ratio between the foreground and the background a bit more even. I love "Kathrine Howard" conceptually, and the design has some very interesting technical approaches to the patterning and the shaping, but it wouldn’t look good on me, and even if it did the only place I’d be able to wear it without feeling like a complete dork is the Renaissance Fair.2

The upshot of all this,of course, is that there probably won’t be a "Mary Tudor" as such in my knitting future. I’m not scared of complicated, and I tend to learn best when doing something that is insanely difficult, which is part of the appeal of a "Mary Tudor" as a first sweater. So I guess what I’ll have to do is pick the elements I like from "Catherine of Aragon" remove the ones I don’t, and then re-design it into something rather more complicated than when I started, then screw up the start about four times, decide I don’t like what I’ve done, rip out my only successful start, and then re-do it again thus designing and knitting the most complicated thing I can think of for my first real sweater. I chafe at following other people’s patterns anyway, and this way it will really be my awesome sweater of great awesomeness. Not to mention that I can put off starting it indefinitely because I’m "working on the design" and knit on less scary projects, like Shetland and Estonian lace shawls, without losing face.

1. For the record, I have knitted one sweater. I played it safe and made it for Thing 1 who wouldn’t know or care if it didn’t fit right. It’s an Elizabeth Zimmerman-style make it up as you go along top-down raglan that, miraculously enough, actually does fit (except that the sleeves are too short because I ran out of yarn). It’s wool, so Thing 1 wears it proudly when he’s pretending to be a sheep, and has asked me to make one for Thing 2 so that she can be a proper sheep as well.

2. Yes, I know that Renaissance Fairs are intrinsically dorky, but the point is that a "Hey, look! I’m a sweater that’s supposed to look like something from the Renaissance" sweater wouldn’t stand out freakish and weird in that particular context.