25 November 2009

The CCC and Oven Debacle

Who does not love chocolate chip cookies? I know a handful of people who don't like chocolate (can you even imagine?) but all of them still eat chocolate chip cookies.

My mother allowed my sisters and I to putter about in the kitchen from a very early age. We made dinner, we baked, we helped her with canning. I don't know when the first time I made cookies all by my lonesome self would have been - 8? 12? somewhere in between? - but by the time I was a teenager, I was an old hand at baking. Chocolate chips were always a favorite.

For a long time, I used the recipe on the back of the bag of Nestle Toll House cc's. I wasn't always satisfied with the results, but they were OK. Sometimes they were too flat, sometimes they were too hard; but back then, things like exact measurements and careful processes....well, they weren't high on my priority list, y'know? I made CCCs in Sweden for my host family. I took a Pyrex glass measuring cup and Nestle's with me on the plane, smuggled in my luggage. I'm sure that container of chips looked odd on the X-rays, but no one tried to stop me! The results of the CCCs in Sweden were a crapshoot. Sometimes they were better than others. Using a liquid measuring cup for a solid, like flour....eh. Not the wisest. And once I ran out of cc's, I used big bars of chocolate from the grocery store, chopping them into big chunks. Usually milk chocolate, which I really don't like much. My host family enjoyed them, and once I learned how to read Swedish, I could distinguish milk from dark chocolate.

After I came back to the States, I continued to use the Nestle recipe.

Food Network made its appearance on our local cable system somewhere in the late 90s. And then I discovered Alton Brown. Oh, AB! My geek heart goes pitter-patter when you explain how and why things work. Complete with diagrams. AB's recipes for CCC's show you how to make puffy CCCs. How to make chewy CCCs. How to make thin CCCs. My favorite of the three is the chewy variety, the recipe can be found here. I've happily used that recipe for many years now.


Earlier this year, my oven broke. One of the electric coils gave up the ghost, and we were forced to admit that purchasing a replacement coil would be foolish when the entire unit - oven and stovetop - were vintage 1978, plus I've never liked the stove, and hey, we found a brand new one for $100.

I haven't used the new one much. But I got the urge for some CCCs, and baked a batch of AB's best. Except: they were flat. Flatter than a pancake flat. Still chewy, but flat flat flat. Well! I couldn't have that, now, could I? No. So I began doing a little research and I decided (in my infinite wisdom) that using my stand mixer and allowing it to run for a little longer than normal had incorporated too much air into the batter. I can make CCCs without a stand mixer, so I did. Super-carefully measuring, and I got a new box of baking soda, thinking (incorrectly) that maybe my baking soda was old and not giving its appropriate ooomph to the cookies. I also bought a new thermometer for the oven, from a restaurant supply place, to make sure the oven was at the right temperature. (It cost all of $2.52.) I have a nifty new scale (which was NOT $2.52!), and I measured AND weighed everything with the scale, noting down the metric equivalents so that I can make CCCs the next time I'm in Sweden. But. The second batch? Was as flat as the first. Still tasty, but UGLY. Well, that meant war, now, didn't it?

In all the time I've made AB's cookies, I've never altered the recipe a whit. Followed it to the letter, with the exception of adding more chips than it calls for - I always do that when making chocolate chippers - or using chunks instead of chips. Sometimes pecans or macadamia nuts, too. I decided the time had come for me to step back from the master, and wing it.

So the next batch was again made without the mixer, and careful measuring. But I added a half cup more of flour. The secret to the chewy cookies is using bread flour rather than AP flour. Something about gluten and chemical reactions and AB does a much better job of explaining it than I do; hop over to foodtv.com to watch him do so. But why I needed to suddenly use 2-3/4 cups of flour rather than the recipe indicated 2-1/4....I have no idea. None. Nothing except my oven changed. Remember, please, that I have a brand new thermometer in there to make sure the oven is at the right temp. Is it the size? The new oven is bigger. Is it the single rack instead of the 2 I'm used to? I just don't know.

Batch # whatever was finally the result I was looking for. I was back to "my" chocolate chip cookies. Just in time, too, as the holiday baking season is about to begin. I couldn't give flat CCCs in the tins of cookies that I give to so many people as gifts!

The new oven is kind of obnoxiously annoying. It came with one oven rack. One!! My old oven had 3. I removed one of the racks from the old oven, finding 3 too many most of the time. I kept it next to the refrigerator, handy but not exposed. When we got rid of the old oven, the rack was forgotten, so it wasn't hauled away with the rest of the scrap that the old oven had become. Of course, that leftover rack does not fit into the new oven. In fact, NO oven rack on the planet seems to fit that new oven. As noted above, we got the new oven for a steal. $100. From a "closeout" type store, so of course it was either discontinued by the manufacturer, or it had some minor cosmetic damage. At the time, I thought nothing of it. My mistake. Because while the brand name on the new range/oven is one recognized easily all over the US, it apparently is a one-of-a-kind. It is a Sunbeam. I know, right? You recognize this name, yeah? You probably have a small appliance (mixer, food processor, toaster, toaster oven) that has their name on it. Sunbeam divested themselves of their major appliance division in early 2009, which is how my $100 oven ended up in a closeout store sometime in March. Their website has an ever-so-NOT-helpful memo suggesting that you contact a company called AP Wagner for replacement parts.

There is a local appliance parts shop that has been around since probably the 20s, and so I took the oven rack out of the oven, wrenched my back (seriously, still hurting from that) when I pulled the oven out from the wall for the model number on the rear of the oven. The model number is an odd one, not following the pattern of other Sunbeam model numbers. Hm. When I walked in to the appliance repair place, I had both rack and model number in hand and I had every confidence in the world that they'd have what I needed. That store is a blast from the past type of place. No shiny showroom, no uniformed/name-tagged employees, stacked to the rafters with all sorts of junk, refurbished appliances of every stripe all over the place. There's a front counter, and you tell the person behind the counter what you want. They wander away into a maze of shelving units, disappear for a while, and return carrying your item. Invoices are written by hand. An adding machine calculates the sales tax on your item, and and old-fashioned cash register that makes a loud audible ringing noise when the till is opened is where your money goes.

The person behind the counter did a double-take when I carried my rack in. "What is THAT?" he asked me. Bad sign, if the appliance repair man / parts person does not recognize it right off. I told him it was an oven rack, and he punched the model number in to the computer - for inventory only, and the sole concession to the modern age in that place - and you know what he got back? Bupkis. He told me my model number wasn't a Sunbeam model number, and that the rack in my hand was the largest he had ever seen for a home oven. He didn't think he could even find something that was close, when I told him I didn't care who made the bloody thing, I just wanted it to fit the oven. {GROAN}. Strike out!

I called the 800 number for AP Wagner, and went through the same rigmarole. The model number printed on the sticker on the back of the oven isn't a Sunbeam model number, they say. Oh, FFS. The person on the other end of the phone tried inputting partial numbers, did her best, but you know what she got back from her computer, don't you? Bupkis. She did suggest to me that I call back when I was standing in front of the oven, and that possibly there's a serial number or some other thing that she would be able to track down. Have I done that yet? No, I keep forgetting, thinking about it only when I'm at work or it is 3:30 AM. Not. Helpful.

I called Sunbeam directly, and they were even less of a help, in fact they were curt, trying to blow me off by pawning me off on AP Wagner within 15 seconds of me telling them the problem. I explained that I'd already spent a half hour on the phone with AP Wagner, and then they suggested my local appliance parts place, after asking for my zip code. Been there, I said. They couldn't identify the model number either. Then they gave me a phone number for an appliance parts store in the state capitol. Not. Helpful. The state capitol is a 3-4 hour drive from home, not exactly around the way. I got snippy in return, and then they were apologetic, but firm. They couldn't help me.

Help me, interweb!! How, oh how in the world, am I going to bake 20 dozen cookies with ONE measly oven rack??? On my way home from work each day, I drive past a decorative ironworks business, and I'm frustrated enough, and desperate enough, to stop there and ask if they could make me one. The thought of the price tag for that being triple what I paid for the oven is the only thing that is stopping me from doing just that.

17 November 2009

...and we're back

Blogger, oh, Blogger. You irritate me so. I'd love to be able to take this off of Blogger and use my own domain, but my html skillz are not good enough for that.

I'd been toying with the idea of doing what I have heard called a "flock" a friends lock for a while; I don't know who y'all are out there, reading my missives, rants, recipes...of course, most of y'all don't know who I am, either. I kind of liked that arrangement. If I wanted invisibility, I'd keep a paper journal, after all. I have many faults. Self-centered, diva, control freak...I know them all. Narcissism figures in there pretty large. Someone who really thinks that the world gives a damn about what they think and feel, that's the type of person who keeps a public blog.

Who reads a random blog? Anyone, really. Someone Googles Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's quote that contains the title of this blog, stumbles across something I've written, reads it, likes it, comes back. Or you're one of the people who I have trusted in real life enough to share the url. Or you like that randomocity of that "next blog" button at the top of the screen. Who are you? You are everyone, anyone.

I am a 34 year old married woman who works full time at a job she loves, knits, has a beautiful circle of amazing friends, a family she adores. I'm your sister, your friend, the woman behind you in the check-out line at the grocery store, the woman next door, the person on the mat next to you in your yoga class. Everyone and no one.

I've fretted over some random person figuring out exactly who I am and "outing" me. Why? Really, I don't know. Nothing I've written here is against the law; having an anonymous blog isn't a crime. I was worried when I first started writing that my employers at the time wouldn't really appreciate my point of view on certain subjects. They wrote me a paycheck; I kept quiet in public about my opinions. Being a faceless, nameless person on the web allowed me to say some things that I really wanted to, but couldn't, in the world. Then there was my fascination with an actor and a TV show; forum posts live forever, and some of the things I wrote on fan forums are not things I'd want my grandmother to read, let alone someone I worked with. Having "Lucy" connected to me; well, it'd be a little embarrassing, really. Add to all of that the fact that I have written extensively about my journey with mental illness...and "a little embarrassing" speeds past "a little" and straight to "mortifying".

A nebulous future potential employer may choose not to hire me based on my mental illness if they read what I've written here; sure, that's completely illegal, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't happen. Mental illness is still so poorly understood that many people think mental illness = dangerous. Most people who have a mental illness are normal, functioning members of society. They are your neighbors, your sister, your friends, the woman behind you in the grocery line. Look around. At one time a few years ago, it was estimated that one out of every 5 Americans were taking Prozac. That's 20% of the population. Out of 10 of your friends, two of them. We don't talk about it. We don't advertise it. I'm NOT ashamed, but much like the military's Don't Ask/Don't Tell, I feel no need to shout from the rooftops that I have a mental illness.

We are everyone. We are no one. We are out there. We shouldn't need to be silent.

I did the flock partially while trying to change the Blogger template, but also because I was worried that someone in particular had "found" me. I unlocked it for the same reason I started writing about my mental illness; I sought help because of another blogger. Maybe one of you will do the same; recognize yourself in a post and decide to stop suffering in silence. If one person does that, then my potential embarrassment is a small price to pay.

I am anyone. I am everyone. I am no one. I am your sister. Your daughter. Your friend. Your neighbor. Who are you?

06 November 2009


I've been thinking about laws and common sense lately.

(Yes, hello, it has been a while, how've you been?)

When I was studying American history many years ago and first learned about Prohibition, I remember clearly thinking "Well, that was a dumb idea. You can't legislate morality. What were they thinking?" Of course, having not lived through that time, I can't know what they were thinking but the fact remains that it didn't work. Prohibition made the various mafias richer, and forced the whole thing underground, but it didn't eliminate alcohol from American society. If that was, in fact, the goal, to get rid of any and all alcohol in the United States, it didn't work. It was, rather, a failure on an epic scale.

Of course, the argument could be made that we can, and do legislate morality; it is against the law to beat someone up, to kill someone, to take things that aren't yours, et cetera. In a utopia that we'd all love to be a part of, people would simply not do those things, and we wouldn't need laws and the judicial system and lawyers and government. Ha. As if.

But I'm thinking more about the provision of the sexual harassment laws that prohibit creating a hostile work environment. Here's a definition from EmployeeIssues.com:

...In the legal sense, a hostile work environment is caused by unwelcome conduct in the workplace, in the form of discriminatory harassment toward one or more employees.

The harassing workplace bully might be an employee, such as a bad boss or coworker, or even a non-employee, such as a client or independent contractor. But the workplace bully is doesn't matter as much in the legal sense, as does the fact that he or she is creating an intimidating, offensive, abusive or hostile work environment through discriminatory workplace harassment.

There are no Federal "hostile work environment laws" or "hostile workplace laws" named as such. Creating a hostile workplace is prohibited under certain Federal discrimination laws (listed below). Subsequently, to be illegal under one of the laws in the eyes of the courts, a hostile work environment typically must be caused by discriminatory workplace harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age or sex. Additionally, the harassment typically must be severe, recurring and pervasive. Lastly, the victim or witnesses typically must reasonably believe that tolerating the hostile work environment is a condition of continued employment. In other words, the victim or witnesses typically must reasonably believe that they have no choice, but to endure a hostile workplace in order to keep their jobs.

Listed below are the specific Federal discrimination laws under which it's prohibited to create a hostile work environment through discriminatory harassment; but, other discrimination laws might come into play. Also, the state in which you work might have enacted equivalent laws with even better protections.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Whether a victim or witness, you may report a hostile work environment by filing an appropriate discrimination charge directly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state equivalent or with either though an attorney. To file a lawsuit under one of the laws listed above, you must first file a charge with the EEOC or a state equivalent. A statute of limitations applies.

So wading through all that waffle, there's this: it is illegal to be a bully, but it is illegal only under the right circumstances. You can't file a hostile work environment complaint or lawsuit for the cattiness, nastiness and backbiting that goes on in every workplace all over the world. You can't stop people from being idiots.

It is now more than a year after my stint with the horrible sales job ended, so I feel all right with sharing the following facts: that place was the most hostile, toxic, and miserable place I have ever worked. Ever.

Beyond just being obnoxious and bullying, though, that office was hostile for other reasons. Primarily that the people I worked with there were bigots. They never met a racial or ethnic group that they liked; I heard slurs of the worst kind about every ethnicity, every race, every religion (except their own brand of Christianity...walk the path much?). They also didn't like gays, bisexuals, transgendered people. Nor anyone who didn't toe the line of very conservative side of the Republican party. I eventually realized that unless the person standing in front of them looked just like what they saw in the mirror, then that person was OK. Otherwise? Not so much.

I was offended nearly every time someone opened their mouth in that office. The racial epithets, the slanders against gays, the insinuations that Jews are misers and Muslims are all violent and hell-bent on destroying the western world, the smug certainty that anyone didn't share their beliefs was both an idiot and bound for hell....yeah, it got to me. With a gay cousin, a good friend and neighbor who is African-American (and incidentally the most beautiful woman I have ever met) and my BFF being half Jewish, it was really all that I could do not to sucker-punch them. Daily.

I complained to my boss. He, appallingly, told me that I should expect such behavior and comments; he excused it by saying that racism, intolerance and class divisions are just a part of our region of the country, that the divisions created in the steel mills (which have been closed for 30 years now!!!!!!!!) will always exist, and I should not only expect it, but tolerate and ignore it. !@&$$%^#$$!@#@!#$% Oops. Sorry, that was my unprintable response to him.

My final straw came after a sales meeting where I was one of 6 people at the table, and a racial slur was uttered. I gasped at the horribleness of it, but everyone else at the table? Laughed. And added their own off-color remarks. That, right there, THAT was IT for me. I lodged a formal complaint with my boss, and his response, in a nutshell, was, "Pick your battles, kiddo." And so I did. I chose not to fight that one. I had an interview that same afternoon, and although I had to wait a few agonizing weeks, I was able to quit, and get the hell out of that toxicity.

The reason this is all stirred up and fresh in my mind is that I got a visit from a former co-worker yesterday. Not one of the offenders, per se, but he never spoke up against it, either, and that for me spells a-g-r-e-e-m-e-n-t. Or it spells c-o-m-p-l-i-c-t-y. If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

There were one or two people there who I liked reasonably well. There was no one there that I trusted. So this visit from a former co-worked seemed fishy, and a lot like a fishing expedition. I like to talk to much, and I have to watch myself around those I don't trust, because you never know where something you said might be taken wildly out of context and repeated. It was a nice chat, the person seemed sincere, and was very pointed in noting that they've removed themselves as far as possible from the toxicity, including moving offices to another city.

What did they want? I have no idea. I was polite, although hesitant. The person will be back; they've got some business near my offices, and I expect to see them again soon, and frequently. I'll have to remind myself that although I feel no outright hostility to this person, they are not my friend. I'm not sure what I will do if they show up with a few more co-workers in tow next time. The world isn't evenly divided into "friendlies" and "hostiles".