Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #31: October 26, 2020

 Hi all,

Apologies for the delay here - I'm on the verge of hopefully being able to share some exciting news, but in the meantime, suffice it to say that it's been a truly crazy couple of weeks!  I'm off from work this week, just hanging out with my family in Westchester, so I'm catching up on my emails and have loads of entertainment options for you this week.  This coming weekend is both Halloween and the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means that we get an extra hour of mischief this year.

The past few months have been utterly exhausting for me, and I hadn't realized how very little downtime I've had to indulge in activities that refresh my energy level and make me feel excited and free.  I'm on vacation this week, and I kicked it off by playing several hours of video games on Saturday.  Among other games, I stumbled upon my DJ Hero turntables and pulled them out, only to find that my muscle (and musical) memory had not betrayed me.  I rocked out until my wrists were screaming in pain, and I went to bed giddily content.  That game has some of the best music I've ever heard.  Period.  It's also a wonderful tribute to the true fathers of hip-hop, like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Flash (who serves as a sort of host/MC throughout the game).  The only thing missing would be for DJ Kool Herc to be in the mix.  (If you're interested in the history behind all of this, or if you don't recognize these names, I recommend this book.)

My point is that we all need time every now and then to do something that truly speaks to our soul - something that makes all our cares and worries melt away for a moment and that makes us feel complete, even if the feeling is only ephemeral.  Some of you may know this feeling as "flow" - it's a similar concept.  If you, like me, have been struggling to find that during the pandemic, take a look around and see if you can find something that used to give you that feeling.  Perhaps it's painting, or playing the keyboard, or writing a story, or reading a truly great book, or kicking butt at your favorite game, or playing with Legos, or cooking a fantastic gourmet meal.  Whatever it is, give yourself a chance to indulge.  Especially with the winter months quickly approaching, you'll have plenty of time indoors - make the most of it!

Previous digests can be found on my blog at thatsthewaythecookiecrumbles.com.  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


Early voting runs from October 24 through November 1 in New York - check here to confirm your early polling site (and your regular polling site too). Your early site is likely not the same as your normal polling site, so be sure to check first. These locations will be open longer to allow time for logistics and social distancing.

  • The Brite Nites pumpkin display in New Jersey has been converted to a drive-through experience this year, and it looks amazing!  The display is complete with a T-Rex and a giant dragon.
  • Gravesend Inn: Virtual Haunted House Experience - the Gravesend Inn is an. annual haunted house, but they're foregoing the in-person experience this year in favor of a virtual escape-room experience instead.  Check their website for details.
  • Bayville Scream Park in Long Island is open this year, supposedly following social distancing guidelines put out by the state for all haunted houses.  They even host "not-so-scary" kids' days.
  • BAMboo!: BAM's annual Halloween carnival for kids transforms into a digital experience this year, complete with a costume contest and all sorts of fun activities for kids.  Check out the details here.
  • Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan is hosting the BFPL Digital Halloween Bash, complete with musical performances, a puppet show, a magician (Mario the Maker Magician), and a kids' food festival.
  • Halloween at Hogwarts: Tiny Broadway has put together a class that will test your kid (ages 5-12) in charms, potions, divination, and transfiguration.
  • The New York Public Library is hosting an online literary-themed costume contest, with the winner selected by none other than Tim Gunn this Friday.

Other Entertainment: Lots of dance this week!
  • This is the last week of the NYCB Fall Season, featuring their New Works Festival.  Tune in each night this week at 8pm for a premiere of a new work, filmed in various locations on the Lincoln Center campus and throughout NYC.  The Saturday premiere is by one of my favorite choreographers, Justin Peck.  Access the streams on Facebook, YouTube, and the NYCB's website.
  • Just a reminder that the Fall for Dance Festival is happening this week, and the videos will be available online through November 1.  This is one of my favorite dance events of the year, and I always look forward to it.  You can purchase virtual tickets to access the streams for $15 each here.
  • This short ballet video is an absolutely breathtaking feat of strength and beauty.
  • Try drawing cartoons - this book will teach you how, step by step.  I have no drawing talent, but I had a book just like this one when I was a kid and it actually worked reasonably well!
  • Do you also get nostalgic when you see the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile?  Read these stories from the drivers bravely escorting the beloved hot-dog-on-wheels across the country.
  • Wondering if it's weird that you miss going to the officeIt's not.
  • In the mood to see a magic trick?  Did you know that a Corgi mixed with any other breed just looks like a Corgi dressed up for Halloween?
  • Looking for some variety in your daily puppy-photo montage?  (Am I the only one who needs that?)  Check out the Kangaroo Sanctuary on Instagram, or polar bear live cams at Polar Bear International or Explore.org.
  • Miss travel?  Check out these scenes of far-off places, constructed entirely from cut-up postcards.
  • The New York Public Library is offering personalized book recommendations for your family.  Just fill out the online request form or call Ask NYPL and you'll receive a list of suggested books based on your interests and preferences.  You can then follow up by picking up a bundle of five of those recommended books at your local branch.
  • Can't stop thinking about the election?  Channel your nerves by reading a good book about the election to provide some structure.  The NYPL has recommended reading lists for kids, teens, and adults.
  • Kurzgesagt is a German animation studio that has a channel on YouTube with lots of science-related videos that explain such things as red dwarfs, black holes and neutron stars, as well as philosophical questions like the meaning of life.  See you at the bottom of the rabbit hole!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #30: October 11, 2020

 Hi all,

Friendship is a strange thing.  It takes on many forms.  To me, a friend is someone who makes me smile when I see them or hear from them or even just think about them.  A friend is someone who, no matter how long it's been since we last spoke, I know that I could see and immediately feel a connection with, a flood of memories, and a sense of relief and comfort.  A friend is someone I can talk to about what's really on my mind.  A friend is someone who makes me feel supported even if we're not together.

Each week, I hear from a few of you, and (especially when I hear from someone I haven't spoken to in a while) it brings me real joy.  I've been hearing from more of you lately, and I've also been starting to feel more like myself than I have in a long while - perhaps it's coincidental, but I don't think it's entirely so.  There are people on this distribution list from every aspect of my life - from Purchase Elementary School, Harrison High School, Harvard, NYU Law, FFAWN, Google, Gunderson, and so much more in between - chem camp, and Danbee, and Pleiades, and concert planning, and my various internships and summer jobs, and even two people I met (separately) on the subway in NYC.  We have shared so much, done so much, lived so much life together.  When I'm feeling down, these memories have the power to pull me out of it.

If you're on this list, it's because, when I went to create this list back in March, I thought of you.  I thought about all of the smiles you've brought to my face over the years, and I wanted to do my best to repay you for that gift.  I hope that when this email shows up in your inbox each week, you smile back at me.  I hope you remember our time together just as fondly.  And I hope you also feel a little bit more like yourself.  I cherish my friendships with every one of you, and I want you to know that I'm thinking of you and enthusiastically looking forward to being able to see you again!

Previous digests can be found on my blog at thatsthewaythecookiecrumbles.com.  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


  • The Bachelorette premieres Tuesday night on ABC!  If that doesn't make you smile, I give up.  Please note the new night, though - added bonus: the Bachelorette won't conflict with Monday Night Football!  (Although, notably, it will conflict with Tuesday night football this week, which is only a thing because of the pandemic.  That's ok, though - between Fitzie completely whooping the Niners this afternoon and the multiple heart attacks the Seahawks just gave us tonight, I may have had my fill of football for one week!)
  • The Billboard Awards are this Wednesday at 8pm on NBC.
  • The New York City Ballet's digital fall season is underway.  This week, you can catch Balanchine's Duo Concertant, Symphony in C, and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, plus Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering.  Access the stream on Facebook, YouTube, or the NYCB website; it will be available for one week beginning on Tuesday, October 13, at 8pm.
  • City Center's Fall for Dance festival has gone virtual this year.  Each year, I look forward with wild anticipation to this event, which usually features two weeks of mixed-menu dance performances ranging from tap to flamenco to krumping.  I've seen Lil' Buck dance with Tiler Peck, and Dorrance Dance (tap) paired with classical ballet and one of the best flamenco performances I've ever seen all in one night - it's downright magical.  And did I mention that tickets are only $15? This year, there are two premiere dates, on October 21 and October 26, and both programs will be available online through November 1.  You can buy tickets here.
  • The Public Theater is releasing a four-episode audio play, Shipwreck, this Friday (Oct. 16) at noon.  This piece shows our power to adapt - originally slated to be performed live this year, the play was re-worked specifically for an audience listening in from home.  Learn more here.
  • The Resolution Project, a nonprofit organization that I've been involved with for a full decade, is shifting its traditional annual gala, Resolve, to a multi-day digital experience.  RSVP for free here and tune in from Monday, Oct. 19, through Thursday, Oct. 22, for panel sessions, networking events, exhibitions from Resolution Fellows, and a live musical performance.  The Resolution Project is an organization whose mission is to develop socially responsible young leaders around the world and empower them to make a positive impact in their communities.  They accomplish that goal through social entrepreneurship, offering both Social Venture Challenges for young entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas and Resolution Fellowships to provide a supportive system of funding, partnerships, and services to help them succeed.  Tune in next week, and I promise you'll feel inspired!
Home and Shopping
  • Looking to spruce up your home with some fall decor?  Pick up some super-cheap fake pumpkins and try your hand at making these inexpensive but stunning fall decorations.
  • Amazon's Prime Day sale is Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  Target and Walmart have both announced their own competing mega-sale days (Walmart's started today and runs through my birthday on Thursday, and Target's sale mimics Amazon's dates of Tuesday and Wednesday).  Best Buy will also announce their Black Friday deals this week in order to get in on the action.  Given all the craziness with mail and packages this year, it's never too early to start your holiday shopping!  Full gift guide to come once some of my go-to favorites release their holiday collections (not yet - I've been checking daily!).
Recipe of the Week: Risotto!
  • It's fall, and that means it's the perfect time for risotto!  (Ok, any season is risotto season, but still). Fall ingredients like truffles, butternut squash, figs, and even chestnuts are wonderful additions to the blank canvas of risotto, and classic ingredients like saffron pair beautifully with them.  Check out my base risotto recipe and some of my favorite combinations here.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #29: October 4, 2020

Hi all,

If you've been paying attention to the Digest (or if you've talked to me in the past three years), you've probably noticed that I love copyright law.  Like, really love it.  Well, as it turns out, this week marks a watershed moment in copyright history: oral arguments in Google v. Oracle are slated to take place on Wednesday morning at 10am.  In the Year of Zoom, even the Supreme Court has gone virtual - they began broadcasting a live audio feed this past spring, and they will continue to do so this term.  You can tune in live on Wednesday morning at 10am EDT here, and the recording will be posted here on Friday.

Google v. Oracle holds a very special place in my heart.  This case has been brewing for a full decade, since just about the time I first understood what copyright law really was.  I've had the incredible experience of watching this case develop, from the complaint all the way through the Supreme Court appeals, at the same time as I was learning about the concepts that are involved.  I remember, shortly after starting at Google, wandering over to the desk of our lead copyright attorney and asking him to explain this "fair use" thing that everyone was talking about (Google was involved in a second landmark case involving the same concept at the time, so it was a ubiquitous phrase in legal news).  Anyone who's taken a class in copyright law will understand that that's an absurdly broad question to ask someone out of the blue (I've since written entire papers on small aspects of this doctrine), but, to his credit, he never batted an eye and instead gave me a perfectly understandable explanation.  Nine years later, I was blown away when I was invited to speak on a panel about copyright law alongside that very same attorney, who had become one of my heroes.

This landmark case involves two issues: 1) whether certain types of software code are copyrightable, and 2) whether using those types of code in order to make other software programs interoperable is a sufficient basis for fair use.  If you don't know what that means, don't worry - these are technical terms, but you can trust me that these are important issues for anyone creating software, which these days includes nearly every company.  If you do want to read up on the case, see here and here for good overviews.  This case will determine how software developers are able to function moving forward, and it will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on the digital world as we know it.  Tune in on Wednesday to learn more!

In the meantime, this is the final installment of the recent "Best of..." series; next week, we'll resume the normal format, full of fun and/or helpful tidbits to help you stay positive and find your groove.  Previous digests can be found on my blog at thatsthewaythecookiecrumbles.com.  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


Best of...Delivery Food: Nearly every restaurant is now delivering online, so perhaps my best recommendation here is simply to look at the website of your favorite restaurants and see if they're delivering.  However, if you need some new inspiration (and particularly if you live in Manhattan), here are some that have brought me joy during these past few months.
Best of...Kitchen Gadgets, Part II
  • Ice cube trays: If you haven't already noticed, ice cube trays are a very easy way to express your personality - they come in every shape and size and theme, so literally just think of something that you or a giftee loves and run a Google search, and you'll probably find something wonderful.  Here are some of my favorites I've seen over the years:
    • Classic: Luke and I bought these when we first moved in together years ago because they were the ones on Amazon with the fastest delivery time, but it turns out that they're actually still in our freezer to this day, despite being entirely devoid of fun shapes or puns.  They just plain work.  The large shape means that you have a chance of finishing your drink before it gets completely watered down, and they're compact and take up very little space in our tiny apartment freezer (which I was especially grateful for in March when trying to stock up on long-term groceries).  And no matter how long they've been sitting in the freezer, they're flexible enough that it's always easy to get them out.  If you prefer smaller cubes, try this honeycomb shape instead.
    • Space Invaders: For classic gamers - just a little something to make you smile as you sip.
    • Brain Freeze: Get it?  Actually also a great shape - they're large and melt slowly.
    • DIY Spheres: These molds are actually a lot of fun - you can fill them with water for a giant, slow-melting, statement ball of ice, or you can add diced fruit (strawberries, chopped or whole raspberries, and whole small blueberries are beautiful), herbs, or even fun surprises like gummy bears or Lego figurines (that last one is a BAD IDEA for kids, though - choking hazard, be smart!).
  • Oxo smooth edge can opener: I was terrified of can openers (and open cans) until I found this one - it's completely foolproof, and I would probably even trust a child to be able to use it safely (don't take my word for that last part - use as directed by Oxo).  They appear to have changed the design recently and it now looks more complicated, but the one in the link above is the one I have, and I adore it.
  • Cookie press: This tool makes holiday cookies absurdly simple - you can make dozens of bite-sized delights in seconds using it, and with a shape like a caulking gun, it's also really fun and easy to use.  Just use the recipe that comes with it or look up "spritzgeback" recipes (my adaptation of the fabulous recipe that came with my first cookie press can be found on page 4 here).  Select a shape - other than that, the only decoration you need is a few drops of food coloring in the dough (pink flowers? green trees/clovers? The world is your oyster).  Use a rubber spatula to smoosh the dough into the barrel of the press, then hold vertically against your cookie sheet and press the trigger.  Lift, move, repeat.  I can cover a 16" sheet in about 15 seconds with this thing.
  • Immaculife mug: Tea isn't always for two.  When you're looking to make a solo cup for yourself, try this mug.  You can use it with a tea bag, but it also comes with a removable strainer for loose leaf tea, and it's available in dozens of fun colors and prints.
Best of...Recipes, Part II
  • White Wine Butter Pasta Sauce: One of my favorite sauces to make is also incredibly simple.  Start with some chopped garlic and equal parts white wine and butter (I usually do 1/4-1/2 cup each).  Heat on medium-low until slightly reduced (about 1-2 minutes; if you're worried about the garlic burning, you can add it after a few minutes, although I usually don't have that problem with this particular preparation for some reason).  Add some sage or rosemary if you have them on hand, a pinch of salt, and a splash of pasta water, then simmer until slightly thickened and saucy.  Finish with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese if desired.  It all takes less than 5 minutes to come together and is absolutely delicious!
  • Pecan Pesto: Here's another versatile sauce recipe.  A traditional pesto includes garlic, pine nuts, basil, cheese, and olive oil.  There are two problems with that for me: pine nuts are sometimes expensive or hard to find, and I don't love basil.  So I subbed in pecans for the pine nuts, and a handful of chives, rosemary, and thyme for the basil.  It turned out beautifully, and even my husband gave it two thumbs up (and two bowls down).  So here goes: Place 1/2 cup pecans, a small bunch of chives (maybe about 20 total, sliced), a small bunch of rosemary (ideally minced - I used maybe 1/2 to 1 tbsp) and thyme leaves (I used maybe 1/2-1 tsp), 1 tsp minced garlic and 1 cup parmesan cheese to a food processor; blend until even consistency (should be a sort of sandy texture).  Drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil and a splash of pasta water; add more of either or both as needed to reach desired consistency.  Add protein if desired (I tossed in sautéed chicken with a little chimichurri seasoning and rosemary salt (highly recommended if you followed my advice from a few weeks ago and ordered from The Filling Station!)).  And since this pesto is so good and you're going to want a lot of it in each bite, I recommend using a pasta with a grippy, sauce-holding shape, like fusilli, rotini, or radiatore.
  • Cornmeal-Crusted Shrimp.  I used frozen jumbo shrimp, and this was a phenomenal, restaurant-quality dish.  If you're using frozen shrimp, the first step is to either thaw them or to put them in a Ziploc and start running warm (not hot) water over them while you prep the batter; either way, peel and devein before using.  In a bowl, combine 1 cup yellow cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, and preferred seasonings (I used salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and a smoky maple barbecue seasoning mix).  In a separate small bowl, mix 1 egg and 1/2 cup milk.  Heat a layer of oil in a large frying pan - it should be about half as deep as your shrimp (so if you're using small shrimp, you'll need less than for jumbo shrimp).  One by one, fully submerge each shrimp in the egg-milk mixture, then completely cover with the breadcrumbs, pressing them onto the shrimp until you have a reasonably thick coating with no shrimp visible, then pile on a plate until you're ready to fry.  Once your shrimp is battered, place one layer in the pan, leaving about an inch between each so they don't stick together.  Cook about 3-5 each side, using tongs to gently flip each one  so as not to rip off the cornmeal crust.  Once the shrimp are golden brown and crispy, remove to a paper-towel-lined plate for a few minutes to drain.  I served them over white wine & herb pasta (with garlic, fresh chives, rosemary, thyme, and sweet), and it was absurdly delicious - see previous digests for my base white-wine-garlic sauce recipe.
  • Chicken Pineapple Quesadillas: The beauty of this recipe is that it requires only a handful of ingredients that are relatively easy to find, even during the apocalypse - you can even use canned fruit.  Start by turning on your broiler.  Slice an onion and mince a few slices (2 tbsp minced).  Medium-diced about ½ cup pineapple; if using canned, drain and discard the juice.  Heat a drizzle of oil on medium-high.  Add sliced onion, cook 4-5 minutes til softened.  Add pineapple, salt, and pepper and cook 2-3 minutes until lightly browned.   Remove from pan and set aside; wipe out pan.   Pat chicken dry w/ a paper towel (I used about a cup of large-diced chicken (bite-sized pieces)).  Heat another drizzle of oil; add chicken and whatever spices you’d like (I used chili powder, sweet paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder).  Cook, stirring, until chicken is browned, 4-6 minutes.  Add onion and pineapple, a squeeze of lime juice, and a pinch of chopped cilantro.  Rub one side of two tortillas with oil; place oiled-side-down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Evenly sprinkle with ½ cup cheese (I used mozzarella), then the filling, then another ½ cup of cheese.  Fold each tortilla in half to create quesadillas.  Broil until golden brown on top, 1-2 minutes; flip and repeat; watch closely and don’t burn them!  Cut into wedges; top with pico de gallo (diced tomato, chopped cilantro, minced onion, a squeeze of lime juice, salt, and pepper) and sour cream.  Enjoy!
  • Rosemary Butter Cookies: Yes, those Rosemary Butter Cookies.  This is one of my favorite cookies I've ever made, and a perennial favorite at the Cookie Party.  Bon appetit!  Cream 1 cup unsalted butter (softened) and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until pale and fluffy.  Mix in 1 whole egg and 1 tsp vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 tbsp very finely chopped fresh rosemary (don't skimp!), and 3/4 tsp coarse salt. Halve dough, shape each into a log.  Place each on a 6"x16" sheet of parchment and roll in the parchment until it narrows to a reasonably even 1.5" in diameter.  Freeze until firm (lay each one flat to avoid lumpy logs), about 1 hour.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Pour granulated sugar in a long line on your counter (about as wide as your dough).  Lightly beat an egg white in a small bowl.  Use a pastry brush or a paper towel to coat each log with egg white, and then roll in the sanding sugar.  Slice into 1/4"-thick rounds, space about 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, and bake until the edges are golden, about 18 minutes).  Check carefully every 2 minutes after 10 minutes or so to avoid burning - these go from perfect to charred very quickly!  You can see the full version of this recipe in the following link.
  • Sam's Cookie Collection: This is from the 2019 Cookie Party, but it has many of my cookie classics.  Enjoy!